Signs & Symptoms of IED in Adolescents

Understanding IED

Learn about IED

Intermittent explosive disorder is an impulse-control disorder that is most known for causing individuals who experience it to sometimes exhibit impulsive, aggressive behavior and outbursts of anger. IED manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as quick-tempered “blow-ups,” verbal fights, heated arguments, temper tantrums, physical assault, and/or damage to property or possessions. To be diagnosed with IED, the individual must display either verbal or physical aggression at a minimum of twice per week for about three months, or the individual must have three outbursts that damage property or cause physical assault within a 12-month period.

It should be noted that while anger is a normal human emotion and is justified given certain circumstances, intermittent explosive disorder is oftentimes anger that exceeds what is warranted for a particular situation. Those with IED experience anger or outbursts at an intensity that is out of proportion and often causes significant damage to other people or their property. The effects of IED not only affect those with the disorder, but also those closest to them.

Parents of adolescents with intermittent explosive disorder may confuse the disorder with normal teen angst, but the disorder is based upon the failure to control one’s impulses. IED outbursts are not premeditated, but they are typically rapid. On average, outbursts last less than 30 minutes and are usually the result of a trigger from someone close to them. IED can also impair normal functioning and often disturbs relationships. The disorder is diagnosable in ages as young as six years old.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of IED

It’s important to be on the look-out for the signs and symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder in your adolescent. Some of the signs and symptoms might be behavioral, while others can manifest themselves in the mind. It’s important that you ask your adolescent questions about their feelings and urges because their answers may help you determine what approach you should take toward treatment.  

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Recurrent explosive outbursts of anger 
  • Frequent shouting, screaming, or yelling 
  • Temper tantrums 
  • Verbal fights 
  • Fist fights or assaults against other individuals or animals 
  • Pushing, shoving, or hitting 
  • Destruction of an object 
  • Property damage 
  • Aggressive behavior 
  • Failure to control their impulses  

Mental symptoms: 

  • Overwhelming distress 
  • Explosive anger or rage 
  • Feeling like they are out of control 
  • The need for justice or to “get even” 


Effects of IED

Short-term effects: When intermittent explosive disorder is left untreated, certain short-term effects might manifest themselves in your child’s life. Note that just because these are deemed “short-term” does not mean they are inconsequential or temporary in nature. In fact, any indication of the following short-term effects is actually a sign for immediate professional treatment.  

  • Relationship strife 
  • Property damage 
  • Bad behavior in school  
  • Poor performance at work 
  • Hindered academic performance 
  • Juvenile delinquency  
  • Arrest or incarceration  

Long-term effects: If further left untreated, adolescents with intermittent explosive disorder may suffer from more long-term, or chronic, effects. The longer that professional treatment is delayed, the more intense these long-term effects may become for your child, which can be detrimental to their health and well-being. Because IED affects more than just your child, it is imperative that your child seeks professional treatment as soon as possible. 

  • Relationship loss 
  • Inability to form new relationships 
  • Significant property damage 
  • Expulsion from school 
  • Unemployment 
  • Academic failure 
  • Jail time 
  • Legal consequences  

Co-Occurring Disorders

IED and co-occurring disorders

Many of the symptoms of intermittent explosive disorder can also be found in other mental health disorders because they address impulse control and behaviors. For an accurate diagnosis of IED, it’s important to determine whether your adolescent’s outbursts are not the result of other mental health disorders. At the same time, it is not uncommon for those with IED to also experience a co-occurring disorder, or another mental health disorder, at the same time. Do not be alarmed if your adolescent lives with a co-occurring disorder; use it to alert your attention to why your adolescent might need treatment as soon as possible. Some common co-occurring disorders of IED include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders (addiction)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder can greatly impact relationships with family, friends and coworkers. For someone with IED, it can be emotionally and physically taxing when trying to control impulses and restrain their anger. But at Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, Virginia, management of IED is possible. Through inpatient treatment, adolescents and teens learn the necessary skills to manage their impulses, control their behavior and change their lives.