What is Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

As the name implies, people suffering from intermittent explosive disorder experience uncontrollable fits of rage that go well beyond what might be expected considering the circumstances. In many cases, there is no obvious trigger—the person affected simply loses complete control of their temper apparently at random and without any rational reason.

There are two varieties of IED: one is characterized primarily by verbal outbursts, and the other is characterized by physical responses that might include the destruction of property or actual assaults against other people. For a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder to be made, the former behavior must be observed two times weekly on average for a period of three months, or the latter behavior at least three times within any 12-month period.

Those officially diagnosed with IED are four times more likely to suffer from depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders than the general population. Substance use disorders co-occur quite frequently with IED as well, as about 20% of all IED sufferers will eventually develop some form of chemical dependency.

The Impact of IED on Families and Friends

Because of its unpredictable and violent nature, intermittent explosive disorder can cause serious ruptures in close relationships. Even when things seem to be normal, companions are tense and on edge around IED sufferers, never knowing for sure what might set them off or when an outburst might occur.

Unless a mental health professional is consulted, families may never truly understand why their loved one is acting so irrationally and destructively. It may be dismissed as “anger management” issues, but that is more of a catchall phrase than a real diagnosis and does not capture the depth or nature of the problem.

Treatment, Rehabilitation and Recovery from IED

When a loved one shows signs of uncontrollable rage you should encourage them to seek professional help immediately. In addition to individual counseling, family therapy is often recommended since the impact of IED on loved ones is often profound and not easily forgotten or dismissed.

During the recovery process, much emphasis will be placed on detecting and understanding triggers. With this knowledge IED sufferers can learn to disarm an attack before it goes beyond the preliminary stage. Even if specific triggers aren’t identified, the sufferer may be able to spot a pattern of feelings or emotional responses that precede an outburst, and once again this knowledge and insight can have important preventive value.

As a close friend or family member, you can help the IED sufferer learn to recognize their condition by offering your personal insights and observations. You’ve likely seen IED in action multiple times, giving you an intimate observer’s perspective on the disorder that can benefit your loved one tremendously.

Once the condition is recognized, you can help the IED sufferer seek formal diagnosis and professional treatment. Recovery from IED should be a collaborative effort that involves the sufferer, therapists and loved ones. If you stay positive and hopeful and volunteer useful advice when needed, you can make a valuable contribution to the healing process.



Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School: Treating Intermittent Explosive Disorder


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