What is intermittent explosive disorder?

Intermittent explosive disorder is a condition characterized by impulsive acts of aggression, as opposed to planned violent or aggressive acts. The diagnosis itself is one of exclusion by eliminating the possibility of other disorders and symptoms, as the characteristic traits of IED are very similar to those of other mental health disorders. People that have been diagnosed with IED have symptoms that are very similar to bipolar disorder. In a manic state, a person can act out in fits of rage; people with IED can also blackout during their fit or spell, which are also symptoms associated with bipolar disorder during a manic state. Although there has been very little research done in regards to IED, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, patients with IED are said to have a high propensity of a co-occurring bipolar disorder. (NIMH 2006)

Being around a person with IED can be described as feeling like walking on eggshells due to the violent acts that can happen at any time and the irrationality of any supposed causes of the behavior; there is very little planning one can do to prevent it from happening. People with IED have been said to display a strong sense of dislike for other people and an overall negative disposition about how people perceive them personally.

Violent acts of IED have been called “spells” or “seizures” because they aren’t deliberate, but part of a neurological disorder that creates a psychotic state in a person’s brain. A French psychiatrist named Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol originally described intermittent explosive disorder as partial insanity, as the violent acts are unplanned, unpredicted and impulsive in nature. According to Esquirol, explosive acts exhibited by people with IED are out of proportion with the action or situation that supposedly caused the outburst. Explosive and violent behavior isn’t unique to IED; there are many mental disorders that have components of explosive personality traits or behaviors. According to the DSM IV, patients that have schizoid, narcissistic, obsessive or paranoid behaviors may also be prone to having explosive outbursts of anger, similar to those with IED. One of the symptoms that has been specifically associated with IED is a sense of arousal or tension before the outburst, and a feeling of relief from said tension after the outburst or aggressive act.

Biological or physical causes

There are various ways that a person could develop or inherit dysfunctions of the brain, which could cause one to exhibit IED symptoms. The limbic system of the brain that controls planning could be damaged by head trauma, drugs, alcohol, seizures and brain infection or inflammation. Dysfunctional neurotransmitters such as serotonin levels and hormones such as testosterone are also responsible in aiding the behaviors associated with IED. (Ploskin 2014)

Treating IED

Studies show that the frontal lobe of the brain is unbalanced in a person with IED and that certain medications can be prescribed in order to counteract that imbalance. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are used in antidepressants that will increase the extracellular level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Many people experience lower levels of serotonin and when their levels are increased, it can produce astounding results in treating depression, impulse disorders, sleeping patterns as well as energy levels. A professional psychiatrist can prescribe medications and also recommend alternative homeopathic dietary supplements that can be found at local health food stores. If you or a loved one is suffering from IED or similar symptoms, treatment is available.