Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Symptoms And Causes

Published on March 12th, 2019

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Symptoms and Causes

Anger is a natural emotion that we all feel sometimes. It is normal to be angry when things are upsetting, but there is a line between normal, appropriate anger and anger that is unusual and problematic. 

There are people who are chronically angry or struggle to control their anger. This could be due to different reasons, but chronic and explosive anger is something that needs special attention.

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.

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Intermittent Explosive Disorder often causes interpersonal and legal problems for an affected person. It can also affect a person’s education, career, and overall happiness with life.

A person typically begins to show symptoms in adolescence or early adulthood but 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:

Symptoms of IED tend to occur in episodes that can often be difficult to predict. People with IED tend to be impulsive. They may not consider possible consequences before acting. Acts of rage tend to bring a temporary feeling of relief to the affected person.

Symptoms of IED include:

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 while in an unhealthy relationship are at risk of suffering from IED. The condition 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 as they struggle to understand how to cope with their emotions.


Behaviors exhibited by people with IED are often learned during their upbringing. Affected people may have had a parent or close family member who also had IED or other anger and emotional issues. A person can also develop IED if they grew up in a chaotic environment.

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:

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Treatment Options for Intermittent Explosive Disorder

There are several ways IED can harm 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. To treat IED, the affected person must be ready to address their behaviors and the 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 (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 consider the best behavior to handle an upsetting situation.

Talk Therapy is also helpful in the treatment of IED. In talk therapy, an affected person explores the unconscious drives that cause their anger, along with their past experiences. This helps them understand how their past and current pain contributes to their explosive behavior.

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