Signs & Effects of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Red River Hospital helps individuals struggling with IED build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Wichita Falls, TX, Red River is the leading provider of IED treatment.

Understanding IED

Learn about Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Unprovoked episodes of anger in the forms of verbal or physical aggression are cornerstone to intermittent explosive disorder (IED). A disorder diagnosed between childhood and late adolescence, intermittent explosive disorder is one that causes an individual to essentially lose control of his or her emotions or to act out with extreme levels of hostility towards property, other people, or animals. Triggered by a sense of arousal and/or tension and resulting in feelings of relief, sufferers of intermittent explosive disorder often feel pangs of guilt or remorse following an episode, despite feeling justified in their words or actions.

Typically lasting for less than thirty minutes, the acting out and impulsive episodes associated with intermittent explosive disorder are lacking or include only minor provocation from before the episode. Furthermore, the unwary actions or belligerent verbal response is often clearly out of proportion to the initial stressor. And while the sufferer’s actions or words can be extremely disruptive to the people around him or her, the symptoms of the disorder can be equally, if not more, troublesome to the person diagnosed with the disorder.  With proper interventions, Intermittent Explosive Disorder can be treated and coping skills learned to prevent the uncontrollable outbursts.


IED statistics

Research has shown that males are diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder more often than females, with the prevalence among Americans believed to be around 2.7%. Additionally, it is estimated that 82% of those diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder are also suffering from another mental health disorder. It has been found that intermittent explosive disorder affects approximately 1 in 12 adolescents.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

Research has found that a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors can contribute to an eventual diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder. The following explanations have been accepted by experts:

Genetic: Twin studies have shown a strong genetic component in the diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder. It is believed that individuals with a first-degree family member who has the disorder have a greater chance of developing IED themselves.

Physical: Brain chemistry is believed to be strongly tied to the diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder. Neurobiological research has shown that those with the disorder have abnormalities in the parts of the brain that inhibit motor activity and regulate responses to anger stimuli.

Environmental: Many believe that the environment in which a person is raised can contribute to the development of IED. Experiencing physical or emotional trauma early in life could render a person more susceptible to a subsequent diagnosis. Moreover, children with parents who model violent or aggressive behaviors and words are also at risk of showing symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder later in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of trauma
  • Exposure to violence
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Brain trauma
  • Being male (prevalence among men is higher than women)
  • Certain medical conditions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

While the combination of signs and symptoms present can vary from person to person, a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder is accurate when verbal or physical outbursts occur twice weekly for three months, cause damage to property or another person, are not premeditated, and impair a person’s functioning. The key indicators of the disorder can manifest in a person in the following ways:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unprovoked outbursts of anger
  • Destruction of property
  • Assaultive behavior towards others
  • Verbal aggression
  • Road rage
  • Self-injury

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Hearing echoes
  • Muscle tension
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tingling sensations
  • Tremors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Feeling out of control
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lacking the ability to focus

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Rage
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Emotional detachment
  • Guilt
  • Shame


Effects of IED

The effects of intermittent explosive disorder can adversely affect an individual’s life should the disorder go untreated. Having both short-term and long-term consequences, the following have been known to occur in those diagnosed with IED:

  • Impaired occupational or educational functioning
  • Loss of employment
  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary problems in school
  • Financial strife
  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Marital discord
  • Thoughts and/or attempts at suicide
  • Self-injury
  • Interaction with the legal system

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

People with intermittent explosive disorder often meet criteria for other disorders. The most common co-occurring mental illnesses diagnosed in those with IED may include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder

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