Intermittent Explosive Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a disorder in which a person shows angry and violent behavior. This angry behavior is explosive, and can be intimidating and scary for other people.

IED often causes a great deal of interpersonal and legal problems for an affected person. It can also affect a person’s education, career and overall happiness with life.

Typically, IED will begin to show symptoms between the ages of 12 and 40, but a person can begin showing symptoms as early as 8 years old.

Symptoms of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder are behavioral. A person will exhibit outbursts of unwarranted rage and intolerance of upsetting situations. An affected person will act impulsively and without consequential thought. Signs that indicate a person may be suffering from IED include:

  • Recurring road rage
  • Explosive acts of violence when irritated
  • Temper tantrums over inconveniences
  • Domestic violence
  • Breaking of objects
  • Acts of violence or aggression against strangers or animals

Symptoms of IED tend to occur in episodes that can often be difficult to predict. People with IED tend to be impulsive. They lack the ability to think about the consequences. Acts of rage tend to bring temporary relief to the affected person.

Symptoms of IED include:

  • Acts of rage
  • Irritability
  • Yelling or acts of intimidation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Flushed skin before or during an outburst
  • Tremors
  • Chest pain
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
  • Physical aggression or violence onto others
  • Seeking out physical fights or violence
  • Acts of vandalism or destruction of property

Causes of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

There is no one concrete cause of intermittent explosive disorder. People may suffer from IED for different reasons. It is not uncommon to have IED run in families, but it is unclear if it is due to genetic influence.

Mental health professionals have found the following to be possible causes for IED:

History of Trauma or Abuse

People who were abused as children or during an unhealthy relationship are at risk of suffering from IED. IED can develop as a means to cope with distressing memories. It can also develop as a defensive strategy against an assaulter or aggressor in an abusive situation.

A person who has experienced a traumatic event may also develop IED. People who suffer from trauma may experience grief, fear or guilt. These experiences can cause them to develop aggressive or violent behaviors because they do not understand how to process their own emotions.


Behaviors exhibited by people with IED are often learned during their upbringing. Affected people may have had disciplinarian parents. It is also common to develop IED if a parent or close family member who also had IED.

A person can also develop IED if they grew up in a chaotic environment. If a person attended school or lived in a neighborhood with a high crime rate or a lot of violence, they may develop IED as a means to cope.

History of Mental Health Issues

People who suffer from IED often struggle with other emotional and personality disorders. Children, adolescents and adults who are diagnosed with the following conditions are at risk of suffering from IED:

Treatment Options for Intermittent Explosive Disorder

There are several ways IED can have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life. A person with IED is often in emotional pain and distress, and does not know how to handle these feelings. This causes outbursts of anger and rage. In order to treat IED, the affected person must be ready to address their behaviors and their emotional pain that causes the behaviors.

Treatment for IED typically includes individual counseling and group therapy. Group therapy is particularly helpful in the treatment of IED. Being able to interact with people at different points in recovery helps the affected person feel heard and understood. It also helps them by providing a model for behavior and coping skills.

The following are therapeutic approaches most commonly used in the treatment of IED:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat IED. With CBT, an affected person learns how their behaviors are influenced by their thoughts and emotions. It teaches them how to slow down their reaction and think about what is the best behavior to handle an upsetting situation.

Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is also helpful in the treatment of IED. With psychotherapy, an affected person explores the unconscious drives that causes their anger. Psychotherapy allows the affected person to explore their past experiences. This helps them to understand how their past and current pain contributes to their explosive behavior.

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