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Causes and Treatment of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (ISD), as its name implies, is a psychological disorder that leads to recurrent aggressive behavior.

You’ve probably encountered several people with a “short temper” throughout your life. They seem to enjoy fighting due to the amount of conflict they cause wherever they go. Excessively irritable behavior, however, is indicative of extreme emotional out of control, especially about anger.

What is Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

ISD is characterized by the inability to manage angry impulses. Individuals with this condition have aggressive behaviors and outbursts of anger that are disproportionate to the situations. The rage is so intense that they lose control over themselves, allowing this feeling to blind them to reality.

They also misinterpret events out of anger. Therefore, they always seem to be fighting with someone or irritated by a situation. They are seen as “difficult people” in the environments they frequent.

These individuals scream, curse, break objects, injure animals, and may turn to physical aggression depending on the situation. When anger disappears, it is common for them to feel regret, shame, or guilt for their actions.

This disorder tends to appear with the changes of adolescence, usually after the age of 16, and to consolidate in adulthood. However, the first symptoms can also appear later, between the ages of 25 and 35. In addition, it is a more common condition in men.

Symptoms of Intermittent Explosive Disorder

For a person to be diagnosed with IED, their behavior and feelings need to match a series of criteria. The frequency and intensity of rage attacks are factors observed by the health professional.

This assessment is necessary to determine whether the angry person’s behavior is, in fact, pathological. Some individuals get angry more easily than others, and that doesn’t mean they have the intermittent explosive disorder.

Manifestations of this anger have been grouped into two categories. Those considered “light” are threats, name-calling, insults, obscene gestures, attacks with objects, and aggressions without bodily harm. They must occur at least twice a week over three months.

The so-called “serious” include destruction of property and physical attacks with severe bodily harm. These manifestations of rage must happen at least three times over a year.

In both cases, most tantrums must be motivated by superficial issues and everyday occurrences.

Normally, people get angry when they are provoked or wronged. Even if anger is not an adequate response to resolve the situation, its manifestation is, at the very least, understandable. On the other hand, the extremely angry reactions of the person with ISD are rarely justifiable.

The intermittent explosive disorder also has the following symptoms:

  • Reactive behavior;
  • Rage attacks;
  • Physical and verbal aggression;
  • Irritability and impatience;
  • Uncontrolled reactions that destroy objects;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Impulsivity;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Emotional lack of control;
  • migraine;
  • Sweating;
  • Body tremors;
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or regret after the tantrum.

Causes of the intermittent explosive disorder

As a psychological condition, intermittent explosive personality disorder has several causes.

  • Genetic factors

The main cause of TEI is believed to be the genetic component. It is passed from parents to children, especially in families with cases of other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and generalized anxiety.

  • Environmental factors

It was identified that the majority of people diagnosed with this disorder grew up in families or frequented environments where aggressive behavior was seen as normal.

Recurrent contact with violent actions causes some individuals to internalize these attitudes as common. Thus, in adolescence and adulthood, they repeat the same actions witnessed in childhood.

When violence occurs frequently in the first three years of life, the individual is more likely to engage in violent behavior in the future.

  • Biological factors

Dysfunctions in the production of serotonin, the happiness hormone that has a direct link to depression, can also trigger this condition.

Is Intermittent Explosive Disorder curable?

The intermittent explosive disorder is treatable. An individual with ISD should follow up with a psychologist to learn to control their emotions and express anger healthily. So far, however, there is no definitive cure.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective psychological approach to treating this condition. Through it, the patient learns to replace behaviors that are harmful to their mental health and that of the people around them with healthy behaviors.

Family therapy can also help patients with this condition. Family ties are often shaken with constant conflicts and arguments, so their repair may be necessary. Family therapy promotes the peaceful resolution of disagreements and the strengthening of bonds.

In some cases, group therapy is an option to help the patient control his temper. People with the same disorder come together to share experiences and undergo treatment together in this therapeutic modality.

Finally, treatment can also occur with the help of psychiatric drugs, prescribed by the psychiatrist, to soften the intensity of symptoms. The need to take these drugs will be defined throughout the treatment.

If other mental disorders are identified at the time of diagnosis or during consultations with the psychologist, therapy will also include treatment for those conditions.

How do I know if I have Intermittent Explosive Personality Disorder?

Are you a very angry person? Are you easily irritated or impatient, regardless of the situation? As said, not always a person who is prone to irritation has symptoms of the intermittent explosive disorder.

But if you think your tantrums are unusual, it’s worth reflecting on your behavior. This self-assessment can demonstrate that you can improve your way of being and thinking to live with ease. Also, it can encourage you to go to therapy.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself to identify whether or not your level of anger is harmful to your health.

1. Do you blow up at least twice a week?

Are your tantrums frequent? If they occur at least twice a week, you are likely suffering from symptoms of ISD or another psychological condition.

2. Do you blow up for superficial reasons?

For what reasons are you angry? Are they superficial reasons, such as arguments that could be easily resolved with dialogue or waiting in line at establishments?

One of the characteristics of TEI is the lack of premeditation of aggressive behavior. The person does not explode with an initial goal in mind (cause discomfort, intimidate others, receive a reward). That’s why she feels remorse after the outburst of anger.

3. Do you often curse uncontrollably and throw objects during moments of anger?

Are you so blinded with anger that you hurl curses at the other person without thinking about the consequences, even if it’s someone close, or throw objects across the room to vent negative feelings? TEI blinds people, promoting unexpected attitudes even for them.

If you answered positively and in detail, the questions above, look for a psychologist to make an evaluation.