Understanding Intermittent Explosive Disorder And How To Treat It | BetterHelp (2022)

Anger is a normal part of life. It can come on in response to small irritants or major events. For some, anger responses may become unpredictable and cause problems in relationships, at work, and at home. When these interruptions to life occur because of anger, it is time to reach out for help.

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Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) causes explosive outbursts of anger that are frequently accompanied by violence and disproportionate to the issue or situation at hand. Punching, kicking, screaming, or throwing things may occur, and sometimes these actions escalate into physical aggression and violent behavior. Being at the receiving end of this type of rage is scary, and for those who live with this problem, the risk factors can feel frightening to be out of control to such a degree.

An individual that is diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) should seek the help of a professional to treat their condition, especially if the intermittent explosive disorder symptoms escalate to violent behavior and physical aggression like physical fights. If left untreated, it can lead to some very dangerous situations. As with any mental health condition and/or psychiatric disorders, it is important to learn about your condition and what techniques help.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder Causes

You may be wondering where this diagnosis comes from. How can someone seemingly wake up one day and become explosive or dangerous with aggressive outbursts? Where did this explosive behavior come from? Why are these anger outbursts happening? What starts the verbal outbursts, the sudden episodes, the verbal arguments, and the lack of impulse control like road rage? These questions are all very valid. It is likely that these behaviors did not come out of nowhere, but instead are built up throughout a lifetime of increased stress, anxiety, or fear.

Environmental factors, genetic factors, and other mental health disorders may also be contributing factors. Mental health conditions can be contributing and confounding factors. Mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder), personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder), conduct disorder, substance use disorder (it is important in general to moderate or avoid mood altering substances when you have intermittent explosive disorder), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a host of other disorders may exacerbate and lead to developing intermittent explosive disorder.

While a direct cause has not yet been correlated, the rate of those being diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder has been discovered to bevery high in militarypersonnel. It is largely believed that while the military is trained to focus and sustain life in a highly stressful situation, it leaves them ill-equipped for civilian life afterward. When living in a heightened state of awareness, one's stress level increases and may cause over-reactions to the simplest triggers in life.

Imagine living in a war zone for several years, where enemies are continuously trying to kill you and your friends. You barely sleep, and when you do, you have this intense fear that you will not wake up. Then, you come back into your home community and are expected to put all those experiences aside and go back to life as normal. It is extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible, to do this. Something as simple as a child ringing your doorbell to sell candy can startle you and may even trigger rage.

Given this knowledge, it is safe to say that children who grow up in a household with high tension are much more likely to exhibit signs of this disorder as they grow older. This would include children who have been exposed to war, domestic violence, and child abuse. Children especially have a very difficult time identifying and understanding their anger, which can manifest itself in many ways.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, theNational Domestic Violence Hotlineis available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use theonline chat.

In infants and toddlers, very early signs of developing intermittent explosive disorder can look like tantrums, biting, kicking, or other aggressive impulses. In pre-teens and teenagers, it can manifest as violence towards siblings or parents, getting in trouble with the law, or fighting in school. Many times, children do not even understand that they feel anger, they just appear to have reactions out of nowhere. However, intermittent explosive disorder usually stems from something in the individual’s past or upbringing. The symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder affect family and friends in the lives of the diagnosed from an early age, and it makes the need for the verbal and physical abuse symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder treated as early as possible. By working with professionals, they can identify what is causing these children to act out in such anger and how to help them to choose more appropriate ways to exhibit their feelings. If a therapist who specialized in intermittent explosive disorder diagnosed and treated the disorder early in the person’s life, there is more hope.

While the nature of intermittent explosive disorder makes the cause difficult to identify, it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of this disorder, and take proper measures to receive treatment from a professional.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder In The DSM-5

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as approved by the American Psychiatric Association, has included intermittent explosive disorder as a mental disorder in its Fifth Edition. According to the DSM-5, there are several intermittent explosive disorder symptoms and diagnostic criteria.Some of the same traits between people with intermittent explosive disorder, but not all, include:

  • Unprovoked and unjustified angry outbursts.
  • Physical or verbal aggression.
  • An angered response that is more excessive than what triggered it.
  • Outbursts that occur at least twice weekly for several months.

These angry outbursts can result in abusive behaviors, physical fights, destruction of property, impaired personal relationships, or lashing out towards strangers. During times of anger, the ability to think rationally about actions and control behaviors may be reduced. Therefore, the chances of someone getting hurt as a result of an outburst are higher. People with intermittent explosive disorder can experience symptoms that are potentially mild, like chest tightness, but are also at increased risk for sudden anger like temper tantrums which can lead to more serious situations like physical abuse that leads to physical injury. Some people are also at an increased risk for intermittent explosive disorder subtypes which require specialized treatment. It is important to receive a proper diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible.

As stated above, this condition can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional, so it is essential to seek professional help if you or someone you know has been exhibiting these signs and symptoms.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder Treatment

There are several ways to treat intermittent explosive disorder. The most popular form of treatment is medication for anger through clinical psychiatry. Medications, such as mood regulators, for IED aim to lower impulsivity and raise one's mood. If someone is feeling happier and less impulsive, it is less likely that they would respond to potential triggers with anger and rage. It is important to feel in control of your body and mind to live a healthy life around family, friends, coworkers, and the general population.

However, sometimes medications may mask the root of the problem. For that reason, therapy is also used. While there is a genetic component, behavioral changes such as relaxation techniques can alleviate significant distress and temper tantrums. Therapy sessions can account for biological factors and begin to rework a patient’s brain structure over time. By speaking with their therapist, one can understand the root causes of anger, along with its triggers, and coping skills for moments of rage. In doing this, the first step is to recognize that the present state of anger and rage is not healthy and must be changed. Then, other treatments, such as anger management or cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be utilized. American psychiatric publishing has led to a variety of tools for therapists to teach someone with intermittent explosive disorder to alleviate the aggressive episodes that accompany the chronic disorder. Therapists can help to establish why the anger is present and how to dissipate it. Additionally, they can help with breathing exercises and other stress-management techniques.

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In serious cases of intermittent explosive disorder, an inpatient stay at a mental health facility may be appropriate. There, the patient can be monitored and given appropriate medication and treatment, while keeping the patient and others safe. Often, while admitted, the patient can receive anger management services, therapy services, and sessions with a psychiatrist. Once the patient is stabilized, he or she would be released to practice their newly learned skills while continuing outpatient therapy.

Treatment of this condition is essential. If left untreated, it isn't uncommon to have trouble with the legal system, physical violence in relationships, and damaged relationships with family and friends. The sudden anger can lead to verbal outbursts, the use of recreational drugs or other mood altering substances not prescribed by a doctor, physical abuse, dangerous activity like road rage, self harm, or even attempting suicide (if you are in need of immediate help, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) )By accepting an IED diagnosis and seeking professional treatment, the individual can begin to a treatment plan, and get on the path to living a happy, healthy, and productive life. Family and friends can also help by being supportive and involved with treatment, and with them involved, the person diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder can begin work on impulse control, communication skills, and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing to work through their explosive episodes.

Most people can benefit fromanger management techniques, not just those diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. These are techniques that children should learn throughout their lives so that they can better accept troubles that will occur in their lifetime. Often, though, those experiencing IED will require the help of a mental health expert to manage their symptoms.

Seeking Professional Help

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There is an increasingly large body of evidence pointing to online therapy as a beneficial form of treatment for those experiencing emotional regulation issues arising out intermittent explosive disorder. In one case study, researchers looked atthe benefits of online therapy, and in particular cognitive-behavioral therapy, when treating IED. The participants reportedsignificantly decreased incidences of aggression,in addition toan increase in positive emotions and self-esteem following treatment. This finding corresponds with the conclusions ofa similar studyin which anger was successfully decreased after an online cognitive therapy program. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by helping individuals reframe the negative thought patterns that can often lead to unwanted feelings and behaviors, such as severe, problematic anger, so that triggering situations and interactions are more manageable.

As mentioned above, if you feel as though you or someone you know exhibits signs and symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder, online therapy is a flexible and effective option.BetterHelphas thousands of licensed mental health professionals that are waiting to assist you. With more options than just those therapists in your area, you’ll be more likely to find someone with experience treating your exact symptoms. The qualified experts at BetterHelp are ready to provide you with the tools necessary to control unwanted anger. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“I'm happy I had counseling with Glenn. I used to struggle with anger and trust issues towards my husband when I first talked to Glenn. He listened to me attentively and asked questions delicately and politely. I felt that he cared about my case and really wanted to help me. And he did help me solve my relationship problems. Glenn taught me to forgive, manage conflicts, and express and receive love. Now I enjoy my close and intimate relationship with my loved one, and there's no place for anger and hate in me any more. Finally I feel understood, supported, happy and calm. And I'm so thankful to Glenn for guiding me there.”

“Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session, and has been helping me become more self aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!”

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If you’re living with IED, know that help is out there. You can spend less time worrying about a potential outburst, and more time living a healthy, happy life. Sometimes, reaching out to a professional can make all the difference. Take the first step today.

Commonly Asked Questions About This Topic

Is intermittent explosive disorder a serious mental illness?
How do you know if you have intermittent explosive disorder?
Can IED disorder be cured?
What is the difference between bipolar and intermittent explosive disorder?

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