When an individual acts in a hostile, belligerent, instigative, destructive, or violent manner towards others or property, he or she is presenting with aggressive behaviors. And while certain levels of aggression are normal, as it is an inherent instinct rooted in the need to protect oneself, there are individuals who present with aggressive behavior that is grossly outside of the realm of what is considered socially acceptable. For these people, aggression can be triggered without provocation and lead to permanent consequences.
Another important thing to know is that aggressive behaviors can be seen in people of all ages. Children and adolescents, for example, can present with aggressive behaviors at home, school, and/or in the community. Taking the forms of bullying, fighting, arguing, defying people in positions of authority, or destroying property, young people act in this manner, in part, due to an inability to manage impulses and emotions that seem perplexing or overwhelming. Similar to adults, children and adolescents can become vulnerable to a number of adverse effects if this type of problematic behavior persists. Treatment to identify the causes for aggression and implementation of effective treatment for these causes can greatly improve the lives of young people who act out in this manner. Consequences, such as long-term incarceration, can be avoided by seeking treatment and could allow a child or adolescent to live a life without the profound disturbances and disruptions associated with aggressive behaviors.
Causes of Aggressive Behavior
The development of aggressive behaviors stems from a collection of contributing factors. Genetics, a person’s environment, the presence of a mental health condition or conditions, and certain medications can lead to the onset of aggressive behaviors. Experts agree that these factors explain the causes of aggression, as noted in the listed elaborations:
Genetic: Studies on aggression have concluded that aggression can be inherited. The isolation of a certain gene, of which was found when studies were conducted on mice and then discovered in humans as well, that causes aggressive behavior has provided substantial proof that a person’s genes can be a determining factor in the development of aggressive behavior.
Environmental: Exposure to certain environments or circumstances are known to trigger aggression in people. Residing in a chronically stressful home, witnessing violence or crime, or experiencing abuse and/or neglect can make a person more vulnerable to acting out. This conclusion was reached when comparing the patterns of aggression in those in these environments or circumstances and those that are not. Individuals who are not exposed to these types of environmental factors have been shown to have lower rates of aggression.
Mental health disorders: Many mental health conditions list aggressive behavior as a symptom. Especially for mental illnesses in which impulse control is poor, or in those that involve an inability to manage one’s emotions, mental health disorders, such as the following, can sometimes be blamed for the onset of aggressive behaviors:
- Substance use disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Adjustment disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
Unaddressed aggression has the potential to cause lasting effects for an individual. With the possibility of carrying over into adulthood, the following short and long-term consequences are known to occur when treatment to curb aggressive behaviors is not implemented:
- Poor academic performance / impaired learning
- Academic failure
- Disciplinary action at school
- Increased risk of expulsion
- Inability to form and/or maintain healthy relationships
- Increased conflict with others
- Inability to adjust to changes in life
- Engaging in risky behaviors / criminal activity
- Interaction with law enforcement
- Substance use or abuse
Treatment for Aggression
Aggressive behavior is often indicative that an individual is suffering from some form of mental illness. Especially if a child or adolescent is presenting with overt anger or frequent temper tantrums, is destroying property, or appears to instigate fights with others for no reason, he or she may be grappling with a mental health condition that is triggering this kind of lashing out. Those that are presenting with this type of behavior can greatly benefit from treatment, such that effective care for aggression can lessen the frequency of symptoms and prevent detrimental effects from occurring.
An evaluation from a mental health professional can solidify a diagnosis for a child or adolescent and recommend appropriate treatment. One treatment option that has proven effectiveness in treating aggressive behaviors is residential treatment. A residential setting allows for a secure environment that offers ongoing support, immediate intervention in the event aggressive behaviors occur, and education on effective coping skills that can help young people learn how to manage emotions and impulses. Additionally, when a child or adolescent is under the constant supervision of mental health professionals, the underlining causes for aggression can be realized and subsequently treated as well. Lastly, residential treatment affords caregivers the tools to help manage behavior once the child or adolescent returns to his or her home environment.