Signs & Symptoms of IED

Learn about the side effects, causes, signs and symptoms of IED. Millcreek of Magee Treatment Center offers the best residential treatment and home-based programs for children & adolescents struggling with IED.

Understanding IED

Learn more about IED

Children and adolescents who are suffering from intermittent explosive disorder (IED) will typically engage in unwarranted, unprovoked episodes of extreme anger. These kids will act out in a hostile manner, often attacking objects, animals, and/or other people. Such impulsive acts of aggressiveness are grossly out of proportion to the given circumstance, but children with IED feel a sense of tension and rage that prevents them from responding in a rational manner. Once the aggressive act has occurred, and that rage and tension has been released, however, these children and adolescents typically experience feelings of remorse and/or embarrassment. The presence of intermittent explosive disorder can cause significant disruption in the lives of children afflicted by it, as well as on the lives of those around them. These children may struggle in all areas of their daily lives, including at home, at school, and in social settings. Fortunately, when proper treatment is implemented for intermittent explosive disorder, the devastating consequences of this mental health condition can be prevented.


IED statistics

Intermittent explosive disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in young people, said to affect approximately one in twelve teenagers. IED is more common in boys than it is girls. Estimates have also shown that nearly 82% of individuals with IED also struggle with symptoms of other mental health disorders, with the most common including bipolar disorder, depression, and substance use disorders.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for IED

Due to the fact that there has yet to be any one, isolated cause for the onset of intermittent explosive disorder, professionals in the field agree that this mental health condition is the result of a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors, as described in the following:

Genetic: As is true for other mental health disorders, IED is believed to have a genetic component to its onset in that it is a condition known to run in families. Research has shown that children and adolescents who have a biological parent with a history of intermittent explosive disorder have a higher likelihood of displaying symptoms of the illness at some point in their lives as well.

Physical: Neurobiological studies have indicated that the presence of IED may be, in part, due to abnormalities in the parts of one’s brain that is responsible for regulating inhibition, behaviors, and arousal. These abnormalities are believed to cause individuals with intermittent explosive disorder to process information and behave in the ways that they do.

Environmental: Many professionals in the field of mental health believe that the environments in which people spend a significant amount of time can have an impact on whether or not they will develop symptoms synonymous with intermittent explosive disorder. Being exposed to chronic violence and aggression can lead children and adolescents to believe that those are appropriate ways to respond to various situations. Additionally, when children and adolescents are subjected to abuse, neglect, or other types of traumatic experiences, they are believed to be more susceptible to developing IED.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of IED or other mental health conditions
  • Family history or personal history of substance abuse and/or addiction
  • Exposure to violence
  • Having been the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • Having suffered a traumatic brain injury

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

When children and adolescents have IED, they will present with an array of different signs and symptoms, all of which will vary from child to child depending on a number of different factors. The severity of one’s symptoms will also vary, but all will inevitably lead to significant disruption in a child or adolescent’s life. Examples of various signs and symptoms that may be exhibited by a child or adolescent who is suffering from intermittent explosive disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Physically attacking people
  • Physically attacking animals
  • Destroying property
  • Verbal aggressiveness
  • Engaging in instigative behaviors towards others
  • Acting out in excessive, unprovoked angry outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Participating in self-harming behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest tightness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Numbness
  • Injuries as a result of physically acting out

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lacking the ability to control impulses
  • Hearing echoes
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme, excessive anger
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Rage
  • Excessive irritability
  • Extreme agitation
  • Low frustration tolerance


The effects of IED

When children and adolescents do not receive treatment for IED, the long-term effects can be monumentally detrimental on their futures. Examples of such effects may include:

  • Academic failure
  • Being suspended or expelled from school
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and friendships
  • Isolation
  • Low self-esteem / low feelings of self-worth
  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Interactions with law enforcement
  • Incarceration
  • Substance use and/or addiction
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

As was previously mentioned, approximately 82% of individuals with intermittent explosive disorder also experience symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions. Some of the most commonly cited disorders known to co-occur with IED include:

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