Have you ever been at a restaurant, airport, or other public place when someone suddenly and loudly flies off the handle with only the slightest provocation? Perhaps you work with someone who repeatedly becomes unjustifiably angry at coworkers and even total strangers. It is possible that this person suffers from intermittent explosive disorder (IED), a little-known mental health disorder characterized by aggressive and destructive outbursts that are out of proportion to the situation triggering them. Relatively little is known about how many people suffer from IED, how effectively it is treated, and whether it is associated with other mental health disorders.

In an article published in the June 2006 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry , researchers state that IED affects as many as 7.3% of Americans at some point in their lives. They also report that only about one-quarter of IED suffers are treated for their anger, and that the disorder is significantly associated with several other mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.

About the Study

The researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of 9282 men and women to determine whether they fit the diagnostic criteria for IED. They also noted whether the participants suffered from other anxiety, mood, or substance abuse disorders, and they asked the study subjects whether they had been treated for their anger or other mental health disorders.

The researchers found that 7.3% of the study participants had intermittent explosive disorder. The average age of IED onset was 14 years old. In addition, 81.8% of people with IED suffered from at least one other mood, anxiety, or substance abuse disorder. Finally, although 60.3% of those with IED had received professional treatment for an emotional or substance problem, only 28.8% had received treatment for anger.

How Does This Affect You?

This study revealed some basic characteristics of a little-known, yet surprisingly common, mental health disorder. But much is still unclear about IED. As this condition becomes better understood, and more patients and physicians become aware of the disorder, more opportunities for treatment should emerge. For example, this study found that IED often begins in early adolescence. It is possible that treating anger during the teen years might reduce an individual’s risk of developing other mental health problems later in life.

Repeated episodes of unprovoked anger can be a serious mental health problem, young or old. If anyone you know experiences episodes of uncontrollable and destructive anger, there’s a good chance he or she has not been diagnosed or treated. Although you may be reluctant to venture into the lions den to render aid, getting this person the help they need may be worth it.