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What is intermittent explosive disorder (IED)?

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a mental health disorder in which kids have short periods of intense, unexpected anger and violent behavior. These feelings seem to come out of nowhere. They feel they have no control over their anger. IED usually shows up in late childhood or the early teen years. 

Kids with IED often have tantrums, outbursts or fights. Less frequently, they also have more serious rages where they physically harm people, animals or things. IED causes problems with kids’ family lives, school performance and friendships.  

What are the symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder?

Signs that a child or teenager might have IED include: 

  • Frequent outbursts such as tantrums, fights or arguments 
  • Feeling unable to control their sudden bursts of anger 
  • Sometimes having bigger, more severe bursts of anger and even violence. During these episodes, kids harm people, animals or objects 
  • Aggressive outbursts in frustrating situations 
  • Explosive bursts of anger that last less than 30 minutes and aren’t directed at any one thing 

Road rage, breaking furniture and getting into physical fights are all common behaviors in kids with IED. 

How is intermittent explosive disorder diagnosed?

In order for a doctor to give a diagnosis of IED, they first have to rule out other possible causes for the child’s behavior. These other causes could include: 

  • Other mental health disorders 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse   
  • Physical causes like a head injury 

If none of these is the cause, a doctor will give a diagnosis of IED if child: 

  • Can’t control their anger 
  • Sometimes has outbursts of rage and violence that are destructive and out of proportion to the situation 
  • Often has tantrums or gets into fights 

How is intermittent explosive disorder treated?

Treatment for IED usually involves both therapy and medication. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to help kids with IED learn which situations cause their episodes of rage. In CBT, they learn to recognize and manage their anger in a healthier way that makes them feel better and keeps everyone safe. A therapist will work with the child, their family and sometimes teachers to help the child avoid angry outbursts. 

There are no medications specifically for IED, but a number of medications are used to help kids with IED. Medications sometimes used for IED include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and mood regulators. 

Risk factors for other disorders

Anxiety, depression and substance abuse are more common in people diagnosed with IED. Kids with IED are also at a higher risk of harming themselves and attempting suicide. If you think your child or teenager is suicidal, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911 if there is an emergency. Don’t wait — the risk of suicide in children and teenagers is very real. 

This guide was last reviewed or updated on November 17, 2023.