Intermittent Explosive Disorder Signs & Symptoms

Not everyone experiences IED the same way. Understanding the signs, symptoms and effects of IED is an important step toward recovery for your child.

Understanding IED Disorders

Learning about IED

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a mental health disorder in which those who are suffering from it will display repeated episodes of impulsive, aggressive, or violent behavior that is usually out of proportion for the situation at hand. Children and adolescents with this disorder may attack others, causing bodily harm, including injuries to themselves. After such outbursts, these young individuals typically begin to feel a sense of remorse, regret, or even embarrassment. While it is completely normal for children and adolescents to become angry from time to time, or even to demonstrate aggressive behavior every now and then, those with IED will experience these behaviors to such an extreme that it begins to prevent them from functioning properly on a daily basis.

If you have a child or adolescent who is struggling with IED, it is important to seek professional mental health treatment in order to avoid the development of more serious consequences.


IED statistics

Research has shown that intermittent explosive disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in adolescents, affecting approximately one in every 12 teenagers. Additionally, studies have shown that IED is much more prominent in boys than it is in girls. Furthermore, an estimated 82% of individuals who receive a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder also suffer from symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions, with the most common being depression and bipolar disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

One exact cause for the development of intermittent explosive disorder has not been identified. Instead, it is thought that a combination of various factors working together result in the development of this disorder. Some of the most common theories include:

Genetic: Intermittent explosive disorder, like many other mental health conditions, has a strong genetic component. Research has shown that IED tends to run in families and children and adolescents who have first-degree blood relatives with this illness are going to be more susceptible to developing symptoms themselves.

Environmental: It has also been established that a child or adolescent’s environment can have a significant impact on the development of IED. For example, a young person who has been exposed to violence or aggression in the home or who has been the victim of abuse or neglect is more susceptible to developing this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being exposed to violence and crime
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Experiencing trauma of the brain
  • Family history of IED or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

When a child or adolescent has intermittent explosive disorder, he or she may act out in a number of different ways, which will inevitably vary from child to child. Additionally, while the signs and symptoms present will also vary in severity from child to child, they all have the potential to be disruptive to a young person’s life. Some of the most common symptoms associated with IED include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unprovoked angry outbursts and temper tantrums
  • Destruction of property
  • Verbal aggressiveness
  • Physical aggressiveness towards people and/or animals
  • Engaging in instigative behaviors towards others
  • Engagement of self-harming behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Tingling sensations
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Tightness in chest
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Injuries resulting from acting out physically

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Hearing echoes
  • Poor impulse control

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of rage
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Quick to become angry
  • Excessive agitation
  • Feelings of guilt and/or shame


Effects of IED

When children and adolescents do not get the treatment they need for IED, the symptoms that accompany this disorder can lead to the development of severe consequences. Such long-term consequences that can potentially arise when IED is not addressed include the following:

  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Interactions with law enforcement, which may include incarceration
  • Social isolation
  • Disciplinary actions taken at school
  • Academic failure
  • Familial conflict
  • Unable to develop and/or maintain healthy relationships and friendships
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of self-worth
  • Engagement in self-harming behaviors
  • Developing an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

Many children and adolescents who struggle with symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder also meet diagnostic criteria for other mental health conditions as well. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders

I give Southwood a big thanks — they were the help that I have been looking for. The staff was wonderful!

– Former client