Intermittent Explosive Disorder Symptoms and Treatments

It is very normal for the average person to come under such extreme amounts of stress that it leads them to become enraged, and possibly even violent. That being said, there are some people who repeatedly lose their temper, over-reacting to situations that do not require such extreme bouts of anger. This condition is known as intermittent explosive disorder, or IED, and involves impulsive, violent, and aggressive behaviour when such behaviour is not necessary. Instances such as road rage are examples of such behaviour, as is domestic abuse. Other signs that may point to IED are throwing and/or breaking objects, and other instances of increased aggression and temper, or temper tantrums.

Symptoms of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Those with IED may have tendencies to attack others or their belongings and possessions, without due cause or care, causing damage and injury, sometimes severe. This disorder usually starts in the teenage years, and often is a sign or cause of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Some common behaviours are notable when dealing with intermittent explosive disorder, such as:

  • Excessive and unwarranted rage
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased levels of energy
  • Tremors
  • Tingling
  • Palpitations
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Racing thoughts 

The excessive and often explosive actions and outbursts are usually not a suitable reaction to the situation which caused them, and individuals often act without any due thought to their actions and their consequence. Some behavioural and verbal outbursts associated with IED include:

  • Shouting
  • Threatening or assaulting people, or even animals
  • Physical intimidation (such as pushing, or slapping)
  • Fighting
  • Damaging property
  • Arguing
  • Tirades 

Individuals may experience a feeling of relief after the outburst, which may change to remorse and regret once they have allowed time for self-reflexion.

Co-morbidity of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

IED is a form of chronic aggression, which is common in those who have a Cluster B Personality Disorders, which include personality characteristics, such as narcissism. It is often difficult to distinguish intermittent explosive disorder from these personality characteristic, and it’s also difficult to distinguish IED from abuse of a substance, or deliberate and intended violence. Many studies pertaining to Cluster B Personality Disorders and IED suggest a correlation and an overlap between them.

Causes of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

The main causes of this disorder are attributed to environmental and biological factors. This disorder has the capability of ripping lives apart psychologically and physically, and an individual may cause irreparable damage during an episode of extreme aggression. Some medications have shown to have a positive effect in treating symptoms, more of which will be discussed later. The common causes of IED are explained below:


In many cases of IED, those who have the condition come from a family that had high levels of explosive and aggressive behaviour. Experiencing this type of behaviour from a young age causes a child to have an increased change of developing these traits as they grow older.


It is also possible that the disorder can be passed down from parent to child, genetically.

Brain Chemistry

People with IED may have different chemical processes happening inside their brain, such as a difference in the way serotonin functions.

Diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

To diagnose intermittent explosive disorder, health care professionals use the DSM IV-TR, which essentially diagnoses the condition via ruling out other conditions and disorders. Behaviours that would lead to IED being diagnosed include:

  • Numerous instances of unwarranted and extreme aggression that caused harm to a person or property.
  • The amount of aggression exerted by the individually is entirely disproportionate and unnecessary to the situation.
  • The violent behaviour cannot be attributed to any other conditions, be they physical or psychological.

Treatment of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

There are often two methods of treating IED used by health care professionals: psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological. Each treatment is detailed and explained below.


This type of treatment works in two ways:

  1. To identify what situations and occurrences trigger aggressive behaviour
  2. To learn how to deal with those situations, and manage your anger effectively

This type of therapy is known as cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, and it is commonly applied to help treat those with IED. Methods such as learning coping skills, breathing exercises, and cognitive restructuring are employed with the hope of easing an individual’s anger.


There is currently no specific medication engineered toward treating IED. That being said, a variety of medications, such as anti-depressants, can be effective in treating symptoms. After visiting your health care professional and undergoing the appropriate evaluations, they will be able to suggest the best course of medication for you to take, if any.

What You Can Do To Control Your Anger

There are numerous things you can try to help ease the amount of anger you feel, yet the first thing you need to do is to recognise the signs of anger. These signs can include increased rate of breathing, increased heart rate, clenching fists, and increase tension. If you begin to notice any of these signs, immediately remove yourself from the situation that is causing your anger to develop.

A good method of anger control is to count to ten. This allows you time to calm down and think about the situation. Another good method is to slowly inhale and exhale. Breathing slowly can help to calm your mood and allow you to think clearer. Always remember to exhale more than you inhale, and keep it slow and calm.

Learn from this video to control your anger.

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