Understanding Explosive Anger Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Also known as intermittent explosive disorder (IED), explosive anger disorder is one of the various mental health disorders that can have a significant impact on individuals and their relationships. It is typically characterized by recurrent episodes of intense and uncontrollable anger, leading to aggressive outbursts (or temper tantrums) and aggressive impulses. 

In this article, we will take a closer look into the details of intermittent explosive disorder — including its symptoms, risk factors, and available treatment options — to shed light on this challenging mental health condition.

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What Is Explosive Anger Disorder (Intermittent Explosive Disorder)?

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED), is classified as one of the impulse control disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). It is characterized by recurrent and impulsive outbursts that are out of proportion to the provocation. 

During these explosive outbursts, individuals may engage in physical aggression, such as physical fights or destruction of property, and verbal aggression, such as yelling, screaming, or threatening others with little or no warning. The intermittent explosive disorder makes a person feel remorseful, guilty, or embarrassed about their behavior. 

Individuals with intermittent explosive disorder often experience a sense of loss of control during these outbursts. Depending on how severe the impulsive aggression is, the frequency of angry outbursts from an intermittent explosive disorder can vary. For some, the episodes can happen several times a week — for others, they occur a few times a month. The frequency of episodes typically depends on how serious the individual’s mental health concerns are along with the precipitating factors and safety factors (or lack thereof) in the individual’s life.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder Symptoms

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder (IED), which can cause significant distress and disrupt daily life. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Irritability
  • Rage
  • Tingling
  • Tremors
  • Racing thoughts
  • Chest tightness
  • Palpitations 

It’s important to note that the severity of symptoms can vary, and individuals with intermittent explosive disorder may have periods of relative calm between episodes. Other times, explosive anger disorder can lead to extreme situations, which include:

  • Physical assault
  • Physical abuse
  • Object or property damage
  • Road rage
  • Domestic violence
  • Verbal abuse (shouting, threatening)
  • Temper tantrums

Who Does Intermittent Explosive Disorder Affect?

Now, you may be wondering: who does this mental health concern typically affect? While intermittent explosive disorder can affect individuals of all ages, it generally emerges during adolescence or early adulthood. 

On top of age, this condition can also affect both men and women. However, more frequently than women, men are diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. Treated with other disorders like impulse control disorder and substance use disorder, SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) are sometimes prescribed.

Multiple Traumatic Events

Those who have a history of trauma or multiple traumatic events can also contribute to the development of intermittent explosive disorder further down the line if the traumatic events and aftermath are left unresolved.

In terms of one’s mental health, there may also be a link between IED and other mental health conditions or psychiatric disorders. That said, people with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, conduct disorders, or oppositional defiant disorder may be at a higher risk of developing intermittent explosive disorder.

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Risk Factors and Causes

Several factors can lead to the development of an intermittent explosive disorder. These are:

Biological Factors:

Biological factors and genetic factors may play a role in predisposing certain individuals to IED. If someone in the family has a history of IED or another mental disorder, there might be an increased risk of developing the condition.

Environmental Factors:

Environmental factors such as immediate surroundings of the person can also play a role in the development of IED. If they grew up in a household where physical abuse or aggressive behavior was prevalent, it may increase the risk of developing IED.

Childhood exposure to physical violence is also another contributor to potential aggressive tendencies.

Impulsive Control Disorders:

In addition, individuals with other impulse control disorders, a conduct disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more prone to experiencing anger outbursts and impulsivity.

Substance Abuse:

Substance use disorder and substance abuse are often seen with IED. For some individuals taking mood-altering substances like drugs and alcohol can exacerbate anger issues and lead to more frequent outbursts.

It is easy to say “avoid mood altering substances”, however, some individuals use drugs and alcohol as mood regulators. for these individuals, if they feel sudden anger, they may try to mask their intermittent explosive disorder episode with drugs and alcohol. In this way substances are used as a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Getting Help: Seeking Assistance From Mental Health Professionals

If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with intermittent explosive disorder, seeking help from a mental health professional is crucial. A licensed therapist or psychiatrist with expertise in clinical psychiatry can diagnose and treat the disorder effectively.

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Diagnosing and Treating Intermittent Explosive Disorder

To diagnose an individual with intermittent explosive disorder, mental health professionals will conduct a thorough assessment, taking into account the individual’s history, symptoms, and potential contributing factors that may be part of their diagnostic criteria.

If it’s clear that the patient is showing clear signs of the condition, the medical or mental health professional will propose the best intermittent explosive disorder treatment, which typically involves a combination of approaches.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often the primary psychotherapeutic intervention for intermittent explosive disorder and other mood disorders. CBT can help individuals identify triggers, practice relaxation techniques, and develop coping strategies to manage anger more effectively.


In some cases, a mental health professional may prescribe medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or anti-anxiety medications, to address underlying mood and impulse control issues.

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Coping Strategies for Individuals With Intermittent Explosive Disorder

In addition to professional treatment, individuals with intermittent explosive disorder can practice various coping strategies to manage their anger:

  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness can help in reducing stress and managing anger.
  • Communication Skills: Learning effective communication techniques can aid in expressing emotions without resorting to aggressive behavior.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: Identifying and challenging negative thought patterns can assist in managing impulsive behavior and restructure the way the brain comprehends possible triggers.
  • Seek Support: Engaging in support groups or seeking support from loved ones can provide a valuable outlet for emotions.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Early detection of intermittent explosive disorder can lead to better outcomes for the individual and those around them. Here are some reasons why early detection is important:

Prevention of Angry Outbursts:

Intermittent explosive disorder can lead to violent behavior, physical aggression, and verbal hostility, causing harm to oneself and others. Early detection allows for interventions to be implemented to prevent these harmful outbursts and reduce the risk of physical injury and emotional trauma.

Reduction of Self-harm:

In some cases, individuals with IED may direct their anger inward and engage in self-harming behaviors. Early detection allows for the implementation of strategies to prevent self-harm and promote healthier coping mechanisms.

Enhanced Coping Skills:

Early intervention allows individuals to learn and practice healthier coping strategies for managing anger and frustration. These skills can be tools for managing stress and emotional challenges effectively.

Improved Relationships:

Because of its violent manifestations, uncontrolled anger can lead to impaired interpersonal relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. Early detection and treatment of IED can help individuals develop healthier communication and coping skills, leading to stronger relationships and a more supportive social network.

Enhanced Quality of Life:

There’s no doubt that untreated intermittent explosive disorder can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It may lead to social isolation, difficulty maintaining employment, and reduced overall life satisfaction. As such, early intervention can help individuals manage their anger and improve their overall well-being and life functioning.


Intermittent explosive disorder is a challenging mental health condition that requires understanding, compassion, and professional intervention. Individuals with IED experience recurrent episodes of uncontrollable anger, leading to angry outbursts and impulsive aggressive behavior. 

Through psychotherapy, medication, and coping strategies, individuals with intermittent explosive disorder can learn to manage their anger, improve relationships, and lead fulfilling lives. 

Finding a Mental Health Professional that Understands Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) at CarePlus New Jersey

If you or someone you know is struggling with anger management issues, reaching out for support is the first step toward healing and recovery. CarePlus New Jersey has mental health clinics throughout Northern New Jersey. Our clinicians are trained to work with individuals of all ages facing not only intermittent explosive disorder but most issues an individual, family, parents, or couple may face.

Contact us today for effective treatment and recovery options.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are intermittent explosive disorder and explosive anger disorder the same thing?

Yes. From a diagnostic viewpoint they are the same condition. In a non clinical setting they are often used interchangeably to describe a person with a chronic disorder around anger.

What is explosive anger a symptom of?

Explosive anger is often a symptom of a diagnosis called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). Simple symptoms to notice are: episodes of anger, sudden outbursts in which the person loses control entirely.

This mental health concern can be seen in a child as early as six years old. It can be experience throughout a persons entire life.

Is IED a form of bipolar?

No. Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is not a form of bipolar disorder. Research has shown that those with bipolar disorder can also have IED. This would be a comorbidity or cooccurring disorder, meaning a person has two diagnosis.

A person with bipolar disorder will usually exhibit more mood symptoms than someone with IED. However, both disorder involve brain regions that regulate top-down control of aggression and violent behavior.

What is the difference between IED and anger issues?

An intermittent explosive disorder is an impulse control disorder. A person cannot always regulate their actions when they are angry. So when anger becomes difficult to control it may be time to decipher if IED is something to look at.

Anger issues happen to people daily, however, when they are angry they do not act out with aggression, verbal or physical abuse, or injure others, animals, or themselves.