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Intermittent Explosive Disorder Symptoms

Intermittent explosive disorder is a little-known mental disorder which leads to property damage, violence, and injury. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 16 million Americans suffer from this disorder based on information gathered from the National Comorbidity Survey given to nearly 10,000 households.

People with intermittent explosive disorder are often angry, aggressive, lack impulse control, and don’t react properly to trying situations. Instead, they may verbally attack others, break things, or cause injuries to themselves and others. Sufferers from intermittent explosive disorder are almost always apologetic, remorseful, and embarrassed after an outburst.

Not all emotional outbursts are caused by intermittent explosive disorder; there are other physical symptoms that accompany the seemingly out-of-control behavior.

Visible Symptoms

impulse control

Individuals with intermittent explosive disorder have difficulties controlling their anger and aggression.

For those experiencing intermittent explosive disorder from an onlookers’ perspective, it can be confusing and frightening. These episodes of explosive anger normally last less than 30 minutes and you may see verbal abusive, destroyed property, or physically violence. The aggressive behavior seems utterly out of proportion to the triggering event or situation. Several episodes can happen closely together or several weeks could pass in between. People with this disorder could be quick-tempered, cross, belligerent, and lack impulse control as part of their personality.

Physical Symptoms

Experiencing intermittent explosive disorder yourself might be confusing, but outbursts could be rational to you if you’re suffering from the disorder. Before and during these outbursts, you are probably short-tempered and feeling enraged and hostile. You’re probably bursting with energy, have pressure in your head, and your thoughts are churning a mile a minute. You might have tingling throughout your body or in localized places like your hands, your heart may skip a beat or it might be racing, and you could be shaking all over.

During an episode, it’s as if you completely lose control. You might hurt someone you love, smash things, or say things you wouldn’t say under other circumstances. Afterward, you might feel relieved physically and emotionally or you could be distressed your behavior. You might be exhausted.


The cause of intermittent explosive disorder isn’t known, but exposure to physical and verbal abuse and explosive behavior during childhood are believed to be contributing factors. Scientists believe that genetics and a serotonin dysfunction may also contribute to the disorder.

Getting diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder requires that your doctor screen your behavior against the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the go-to manual for mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The manual’s criteria for intermittent explosive disorder include:

  • Multiple episodes with inability to resist aggressive behavior resulting in property destruction or assault on others
  • Aggressive behavior that’s blatantly out of proportion to the triggering event or situation
  • Episodes that cannot be attributed to another mental disorder, drugs, or a medical issue

Before diagnosing with intermittent explosive disorder, your physician will screen you for other mental disorders and possibly test for substance abuse. If you suspect intermittent explosive disorder, call a doctor as soon as possible.