Intermittent explosive disorder is a condition characterized by repeated and sudden episodes of aggressive, angry, violent, or impulsive behavior. The behavior is wildly disproportionate to the situation. Breaking and throwing objects, engaging in domestic violence, and being overcome by road rage are all behaviors that might indicate intermittent explosive disorder. The outbursts cause extreme distress to the person who exhibits them, and there are negative consequences on interpersonal relationships, school, and work.
Depending on the circumstances, outbursts may end with financial and legal consequences as well. This disorder is chronic and might persist for years, though some research indicates outbursts might become less severe as individuals age. There are treatments, though. Usually a combination of psychotherapy and medication are used to help patients control their aggression.
Frequent Heated Arguments
Frequent heated arguments are a common sign of intermittent explosive disorder. These arguments often escalate quickly and seem to occur with little to no prompting. They involve a level of aggression that doesn't make sense for the circumstances. The arguments might involve raised voices and shouting, and there may be physical threats involved. For some individuals, verbal episodes are more common than physical ones.
The episodes of verbal aggression tend to occur intermittently between periods of seemingly uncontrollable physical aggression. Affected individuals may go on tirades about circumstances or behaviors that don't warrant their level of rage. The arguments may become worse if the other party becomes aggressive themselves instead of trying to deescalate the situation. With that said, deescalating behavior could trigger even more aggression depending on the person.
Temper tantrums are another one of the common symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder. These tantrums are defined as disruptive and unpleasant behaviors or outbursts. They're usually caused when an individual's desires or needs aren't being met. Tantrums are common in younger children and children who struggle to express their needs. However, with healthy emotional development, individuals learn to communicate their needs and control their anger without tantrums.
In intermittent explosive disorder, adolescents and adults may display tantrum behaviors. It's important to note a tantrum involves behavior meant to elicit a reaction from someone else. Generally, the behavior can be controlled. Episodes of upset and lack of control that aren't performed for others might be sensory meltdowns. Adults who throw temper tantrums might break their own possessions or the possessions of the person they're angry at. They may yell and become physically violent.
Physical altercations are a common component of intermittent explosive disorder. These may involve self-directed physical behaviors like smashing things or punching walls. However, they also often involve other people. Sometimes the episodes will result in domestic violence through pushing, shoving, or slapping. There may also be physical fights with both loved ones and strangers. The individual may feel remorse following the physical altercation, once they've 'come down' from the episode.
But there's also often a sense of tiredness and relief when the emotions have run their course. Physical violence has a lasting psychological impact on the individuals who endure it, and the relationship between the two might never recover fully. On top of this, physical violence can lead to legal repercussions like lawsuits, assault charges, domestic violence charges, or other violent crimes with serious prison penalties.
Aggressive Mood Changes
Intermittent explosive disorder comes with aggressive mood changes that may seem to happen without warning. Some patients may mistake their mood swings for an illness like bipolar disorder. But bipolar disorder's phases tend to last weeks or years. Even with rapid cycling bipolar disorder, the moods last at least a few days. Another mental health condition associated with aggressive mood changes is borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by a lack of emotional regulation, unhealthy attachments to others, and patterns of volatile and broken relationships. Borderline personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder sometimes occur together.
Individuals are more prone to aggressive outbursts if they have a condition that impairs their ability to self-regulate their emotional state. One thing about the mood changes is that, after the episode is over, the patient themselves may not understand what caused them. Once the emotions have been released through aggression, a sense of mental clarity returns.
Reactions Disproportionate to the Situation
Arguably, the main hallmark of intermittent explosive disorder is disproportionate reactions. When an individual express aggression or a lack of emotional regulation, but the reaction is proportional to the circumstances, a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder rarely fits. They may have another mental illness that causes trouble with healthy communication and emotional expression; many who grew up in volatile households don't learn how to cope with their feelings.
But with intermittent explosive disorder, the reactions don't seem to make sense. They may leave onlookers puzzled and scrambling to catch up with the other person's thought processes. One example would be screaming, punching walls, and smashing mirrors and bottles because someone in the household forgot to put their laundry away. Another example might be a teasing remark the affected individual interprets as an insult and reacts to with extreme anger.