Intermittent Explosive Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding IED

Learn about IED

Intermittent explosive disorder, also known as IED, is a type of impulse control disorder that is predominantly characterized by chronic, unwarranted, and unprovoked acts of physical and/or verbal aggression. In order for an individual to receive a clinical diagnosis of IED, he or she must display such aggression at a minimum of twice weekly for a period of at least three months. Additionally, these aggressive acts must not have been premeditated, must result in physical and/or emotional damage, and must impair the person’s ability to function appropriately on a daily basis.

When people are suffering from IED, they act out in aggressive impulses as the result of intense feelings of tension that build up within them, of which they are incapable of handling in a healthy way. These individuals report that the only way to rid themselves of that tension is to act out in an aggressive manner, yet those acts are typically followed by feelings of remorse and embarrassment. Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those struggling with IED.


IED Statistics

The American Psychiatric Association has reported that, in the United States, there exists a one-year prevalence of approximately 2.7% in regards to individuals who are suffering from intermittent explosive disorder. Studies have also shown that, for adolescents specifically, nearly one in 12 are said to struggle with the symptoms of IED. That being said, research has concluded that IED is much more prominent in younger individuals than it is in older individuals. Furthermore, an astounding 82% of people who suffer from intermittent explosive disorder also struggle with symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions as well.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

The development of intermittent explosive disorder lies in a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Such factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Like other mental health conditions, the onset of intermittent explosive disorder has a strong genetic link. While there has yet to be any specific gene identified as directly correlating to the presence of this mental illness, studies have shown that people who have families who suffer from impulse control disorders, such as IED, are more susceptible to developing the condition themselves. This is said to be especially true for individuals who have first-degree, biological relatives who have struggled with symptoms of IED.

Environmental: Many experts in the field have concluded that the onset of IED can lie in the exposure to certain environmental factors. For example, individuals who have grown up in tumultuous environments where they were exposed to things such as violence, abuse, crime, and/or substance abuse are at a higher risk of displaying the symptoms of IED than are individuals who did not grow up in similar environments.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Having been exposed to violence at an early age
  • Presence of a preexisting mental health condition
  • Family history of impulse control disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • Suffering from certain medical conditions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

When individuals are suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, the symptoms that are displayed will vary. Some of the most common signs that may indicate the presence of IED include, but are not limited to, the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Physical aggressiveness directed at people and/or animals
  • Deliberate destruction of property
  • Engaging in instigative behaviors
  • Verbal aggressiveness
  • Unprovoked violent outbursts
  • Excessive road rage
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest tightness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Tingling sensations

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lacking the ability to focus
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lacking the ability to control impulses
  • Hearing echoes

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Rage
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Excessive agitation
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of IED

Due to the nature of the symptoms of IED, when left untreated, there are a number of devastating consequences that can arise in an individual’s life. Examples of some such effects may include the following:

  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Peer rejection
  • Social isolation
  • Familial conflict
  • Relationship discord
  • Deterioration of one’s self-esteem
  • Engaging in the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Participating in criminal activity and, as a result, having frequent interactions with law enforcement
  • Beginning to engage in self-harming behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

It is common for individuals who are suffering from intermittent explosive disorder to experience symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions as well. Some of the most common disorders known to occur alongside the presence of IED include:

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

The support and help I got from Harbor Oaks was incomparable to any other facility. They helped me manage my IED and I am so thankful for them.

– Former Patient
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