Intermittent Explosive Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Rolling Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with IED build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Ada, near Oklahoma City, Rolling Hills Hospital is the premier provider of mental health & addiction treatment for adolescents, adults & seniors.

Understanding IED

Learn about Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Uncontrolled aggressive outbursts that can involve volatile acting out without remorse or consideration for the consequences of actions or words said are cornerstone to intermittent explosive disorder. Also known as IED, this mental health condition can cause a person to be hostile or destrucive towards others, animals, or property. The behaviors associated with this mental illness are often grossly out of proportion to the initial trigger and can render various harmful effects for a person if treatment is not sought to cease surges of belligerent behaviors.

Children and adolescents battling this disorder are at risk of having interactions with law enforcement, failing academically, and experiencing conflict with loved ones. Adults with this condition who do not receive care may not be able to maintain long-term employment and fail to develop healthy, close relationships with others. By engaging in treatment that addresses the behavioral and emotional concerns related to IED, however, the risks associated with this disorder can be significantly reduced and individuals with IED can gain tools to live happy, healthy lives.


IED statistics

A mental illness that is believed to affect almost 3% of people in the United States, intermittent explosive disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses diagnosed in children. Affecting more males than females, this disorder is diagnosed in nearly 1% of adolescents. Additionally, research has concluded that most individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for IED often suffer from an additional mental health condition, of which can sometimes exacerbate symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

Mental health professionals agree that the following causes and risk factors can lead to the onset of IED symptoms:

Genetic: When a person has a family history of intermittent explosive disorder, there is a high likelihood that he or she will eventually display symptoms of this disorder as well. Because this disorder can be prevalent among people who share similar genes, it can be concluded that IED is influenced by genetics.

Physical: A person’s brain chemistry has been found to be affected by the presence of intermittent explosive disorder. Through the use of neuroimaging, it was realized that those with this condition have certain abnormalities in the areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling motor skills, regulating impulses, and responding to stimuli. Because of these physical changes, the manifestation of IED symptoms is partially caused by changes in the brain’s functioning.

Environmental: Certain changes to an individual’s environment, as well as other circumstantial influences, are believed to trigger symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder. If a child is exposed to violence or aggressive behavior early in life, there is a great likelihood that that child will show signs of IED. In addition, those that have endured abuse, neglect, or who have been exposed to trauma are also more likely to develop intermittent explosive disorder.

Risk factors:

  • Being male
  • Possessing certain medical conditions
  • Personal history of other mental health condition(s)
  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Personal history of trauma, abuse, or neglect
  • Having experienced brain trauma
  • Exposure to violence, chaos, or chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

Should any of the following symptoms be present at least two times per week, spanning the course of at least three months, it is likely that an individual is struggling with symptoms synonymous with intermittent explosive disorder. Additionally, individuals with IED frequently present with the following signs and symptoms without consideration for potential consequences that could occur as a result. If you or a loved one notice the following symptoms, it is necessary that they be reported to a mental health professional so that effective care can be received:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Verbal aggression
  • Unwarranted fits of anger
  • Destruction of property
  • Instigative behaviors
  • Road rage
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Hearing echoes
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest tightening
  • Tremors
  • Tingling or numbness in arms and/or legs
  • Headaches

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Feeling as if one is going to lose control
  • Rapid thought processes

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Rage
  • Low tolerance threshold
  • Emotional detachment


Effects of IED

There are a number of damaging effects that have the possibility of occurring when a person does not seek treatment for intermittent explosive disorder. Without appropriate care, the following are likely to occur for some people:

  • Academic failure
  • Inability to retain or maintain employment
  • Demise of interpersonal relationships or divorce
  • Isolation from friends and loved ones
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Inability to perform at work
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Self-harm
  • Financial problems
  • Use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Intermittent explosive disorder & co-occurring disorders

While a person struggles with symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder, it is common for there to be another mental illness present at the same time. The following mental health conditions are often diagnosed in individuals who have IED:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Substance use disorders

We feel like we got our daughter back after she received treatment at Rolling Hills. The doctors and staff took great care of her.

– Former Patient's Parents