Causes & Effects of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

No one experiences intermittent explosive disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of IED is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Learn about IED

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a mental health condition that causes those suffering from it to engage in excessive, unwarranted, and unprovoked episodes of extreme anger and aggression. Children and adolescents with IED will act out in manners of hostility, often attacking people, animals, and/or objects and property. While all children and adolescents go through periods of time where they act out impulsively and in negative ways, those with IED behave at such an extreme that it begins to impair their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. The outbursts that these youth have are grossly out of proportion to any given circumstance, but the tension that these young people feel prior to their outbursts prohibits them from responding in a rational way. Children and adolescents with this illness typically feel a sense of remorse, or even embarrassment, once the outburst has concluded, yet they simultaneously feel a sense of relief.

The disruption that the presence of this illness can inflict on a young person’s life is seemingly endless, potentially wreaking havoc in their school lives, their home lives, and their social lives. It is important to know, however, that there are treatment options available that can successfully help children and adolescents with intermittent explosive disorder overcome their symptoms and regain control of their impulses, preventing future devastation.


IED statistics

Research has shown that intermittent explosive disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in adolescents, with estimates showing that this condition affects approximately one in every 12 teenagers. Additionally, studies have shown that IED is much more prominent in boys than it is in girls. Furthermore, an estimated 82% of individuals who receive a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder also suffer from symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions, with the most common being depression and bipolar disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

The cause of intermittent explosive disorder is believed to be the result of a combination of various factors working together, as described in the following:

Genetic: Like the majority of mental health conditions, intermittent explosive disorder is believed to have a strong genetic component as part of its development. Research has shown that IED tends to run in families, with children and adolescents who have first-degree blood relatives with this illness being more susceptible to developing symptoms themselves.

Physical: Studies on neurobiology have concluded that the development of IED may be, in some part, due to the existence of abnormalities in the areas of one’s brains that are responsible for regulating behavior, inhibition, and arousal. Such abnormalities can influence the ways in which children and adolescents process information, thus impacting the ways in which they behave.

Environmental: The environments by which children and adolescents are surrounded can significantly impact whether or not the onset of IED will occur. When young people are exposed to violence and aggression in their homes or amongst peers, they are more likely to believe that acting in such a manner is acceptable. Additionally, youth who have been the victim of various types of abuse or neglect, or who have experienced traumas, are more susceptible to developing intermittent explosive disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Experiencing trauma of the brain
  • Family history of IED or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Being exposed to violence and crime
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

Children and adolescents with IED may act out in any number of ways. The specific signs and symptoms that a young person will display will inevitably vary from person to person, but some of the most common behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that are known to be exhibited may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Verbal aggressiveness
  • Physical aggressiveness towards people, animals, and/or property
  • Engaging in instigative behaviors towards others
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Extreme, unprovoked angry outbursts and temper tantrums

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Chest tightness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Tingling sensations
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Injuries resulting from acting out physically

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Hearing echoes
  • Poor impulse control

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Excessive agitation
  • Extreme irritability
  • Feelings of rage
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Feelings of guilt and/or shame
  • Chronic feelings of uncontrollable anger

Effects of IED

When left untreated, the symptoms of IED can elicit devastating consequences on the lives of those afflicted by it. Examples of long-term effects that can arise when the presence of this mental health condition remains unaddressed can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Disciplinary action at school, including suspension or expulsion
  • Academic failure
  • Familial discord
  • Failing to develop and/or maintain healthy relationships and friendships
  • Engaging in criminal activity and subsequent interactions with law enforcement
  • Incarceration
  • Social isolation
  • Deteriorated self-esteem
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Developing an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol
Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

As was previously mentioned, the majority of individuals who struggle with symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder also meet diagnostic criteria for other mental health conditions as well. Some of the most common disorders cited as occurring alongside IED include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to DBI and get help when I did. I will forever be grateful for the experience and all that I learned during my stay there.

– A former client