IED Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and effects of intermittent explosive disorder. Resource Treatment Center provides comprehensive mental health and psychiatric treatment for youth who are suffering from IED.

Understanding IED

Learn about intermittent explosive disorder

When an individual displays overtly aggressive behaviors, is exceedingly verbally defiant, or damages property without consideration for the potential ramifications, he or she may be suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, also known as IED. Symptoms of this condition typically occur at a minimum of two times per week over the course of three months and can cause a great deal of disruption in a person’s life if left untreated. Outbursts, which can last for about thirty minutes at a time, happen with or without provocation, and are often grossly out of proportion to the initial trigger. Children and adolescents are believed to be most affected by IED, though symptoms of this disorder can carry over into adulthood if they are allowed to persist. The key to avoiding the negative effects that can occur as a result of having untreated intermittent explosive disorder is by seeking and receiving treatment that can help a person learn to control impulses, regulate emotions, and practice good decision-making skills. In doing this, there is a greater chance for a person to live a happy, healthy life without the costly effects of IED.


IED statistics

The prevalence rate of intermittent explosive disorder among Americans is said to be 3%. Individuals suffering from this mental health condition are also believed to frequently meet criteria for the diagnosis of another mental illness as well. More males are diagnosed with IED than females, and it has been concluded that one in twelve adolescents are affected by intermittent explosive disorder, making it one of the most common mental illnesses diagnosed in young people.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

Since experts in the field of mental health have yet to determine an isolated cause for the development of IED, it is believed that this mental illness stems from a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental contributors. Consider the following explanations and additional risk factors:

Genetic: Similar to other mental health conditions, intermittent explosive disorder is believed to have a genetic component to it. Individuals who have a biological parent with a history of IED are said to have a higher likelihood of eventually displaying symptoms at some point in their lives. Because of this, it can be concluded that intermittent explosive disorder can be inherited.

Physical: Researchers in the field of neurobiology have discovered that those with intermittent explosive disorder have brain structures and functions that differ from those without this mental illness. This discovery has led researchers to conclude that these differences explain why individuals with IED process information and behave in the manner that they do because the areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating impulses, eliciting anger responses to outside stimuli, and controlling motor function are altered.

Environmental: Certain environmental influences are known to trigger the onset of symptoms of IED in those with and without a genetic predisposition to this mental illness. Exposure to violence and aggression during childhood, going through traumatic experiences, or being the victim of abuse and/or neglect are examples of some environmental factors that could bring about intermittent explosive disorder symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of IED or another mental health condition
  • Possessing certain medical conditions
  • Personal history of brain trauma
  • Exposure to trauma / abuse / neglect
  • Witnessing aggressive or violent behaviors early in life

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

There are a number of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial indicators that infer a person is grappling with IED. Depending on the severity of the symptoms present and the age of the individual displaying those symptoms, the signs of this mental health condition can vary. If you suspect that your child is struggling with IED, it is imperative that noticeable symptoms are reported to a mental health professional so that effective care can be implemented. Examples of symptoms can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Verbal defiance
  • Unabashed outbursts of anger
  • Instigative behavior towards others
  • Physical aggression towards others
  • Causing harm to animals
  • Damaging property
  • Self-harming behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Physical injuries due to acting out behaviors
  • Tense muscles
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Numbness
  • Tight feeling in one’s chest

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Hearing echoes
  • Rapid thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling as if one is going to lose control at a moment’s notice
  • Emotional detachment
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of shame
  • Rage
  • Low frustration tolerance


Effects of IED

The symptoms of IED can infringe upon a person’s life in several ways if appropriate treatment is not sought. With the potential of causing life-changing consequences, the following detrimental effects are known to occur when symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder persist:

  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Poor peer interactions
  • Social withdrawal / isolation
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Use or abuse of substances
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

When an individual is suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, it is possible for that same person to meet diagnostic criteria for another mental health condition. In some cases, certain mental health disorders can trigger symptoms of another disorder. Additionally, symptoms of some mental health conditions can overlap those of other disorders and lead to the diagnosis of an additional mental health condition. The following mental illnesses are known to occur alongside intermittent explosive disorder:

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

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