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Impulse Control Disorders - Intermittent explosive disorder

Updated on July 17, 2017

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is an impulse control disorder typified by sudden episodes of unwarranted anger. It is a behavioral disorder that is characterized as explosive outbursts of anger and rage that is often disproportionate to the situation on hand. It includes both physical and verbal abuse. According to clinical sources it is a behavioral trait that begins with early life and continues into adulthood.

Individuals who suffer from IED can be described as aggressive individuals who display “intermittent violent behavior” and are “generally excitable, aggressive, and overresponsive to environmental pressures” with “gross outbursts of rage or of verbal or physical aggressiveness different from their usual or normal behavior”. These aggressive outbursts most commonly occur in response to minor provocation by a close intimate or associate.

IED is described as an inability to fightback, control or restrain impulses to act aggressively and results in serious damage to property and persons. Most of us would have stumbled across or encountered someone who suffers from some form of IED at one time or another. It is more common that experts actually believe and it is quite destructive.

An example of intermittent explosive disorder that we stumble across or read about on a day to day or daily basis is road rage i.e. where the actions of the one party does not in any way warrant the reaction it receives from the aggrieved party for example when an on-road incident results in shots being fired.

There are three prime causes that contribute to intermittent explosive disorders. Firstly, it is the environment that a person grew-up in. Man is a product of his environment and hence someone who grew-up in an environment that is violence prone is more likely to suffer from IED than someone who grew in a serene and peaceful environment.

Now that doesn’t mean that those who grew up in slums or ghettos are more likely to suffer from IED or that those that grew up in posh of upper class neighborhoods are less likely to suffer from IED.

It depends on the level of violence that a person is subjected to and we can find perfectly peaceful homes even in ghettos and we can find dysfunctional families i.e. where the parents are constantly fighting, in the best of suburbs.

If an individual is continuously exposed to violence from a young age or has come to accept that a certain degree of violence is acceptable even if the situation does not warrant it then there is a very likely possibility that the person may suffer from IED.

IED may also be genetic i.e. it may be inherited and according to some sources there may be a genetic component that is handed down that causes the individual to behave in the way and manner that he or she does. It is to some degree related to the principle cause of IED in that those who grew up in the same households are most likely to share the same characteristics as the rest of the occupants and hence someone who grew up in a violent household is more likely to exhibit more violent tendencies.

Thirdly, IED’s can also be the result of serotonin imbalance. Serotonin is an important chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) in the mind and a person is more inclined to react aggressively in given situations as a result of the chemical imbalance.

The following passage gives us an example of IED related behavior that has been brought to light during a particular trial - “it began with him causing a miscarriage as a 14-year-old by punching a pregnant 18-year-old in the stomach”. It tells us that IED type behavior is and can be related or tied to acts of an extremely aggressive nature.

Likewise, IED related verbal abuses tend to be more vulgar or more distressful than normal verbal insults which can be shrugged off as someone letting off some steam.

We need to know where to draw the line and to be able to differentiate between someone whose anger is normal and someone whose anger is a result of IED because we can dismiss the former as more or less harmless. The latter however needs to be treated with caution.

Individuals with IED often feel a sense of relief once they have released the rage that builds up inside and some do feel embarrassed or express remorse.

© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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