Intermittent explosive disorder: Does your teen suffer from it?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- If you child seems susceptible to fits of rage, you're not alone. In fact, it's more common than you might think.

According to a new study out of Harvard, one in 12 teens (8 percent) and their families are living with intermittent explosive disorder.

"Intermittent explosive disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation," according to the Mayo Clinic. "Road rage, domestic abuse, and angry outbursts or temper tantrums that involve throwing or breaking objects may be signs of intermittent explosive disorder (IED)."

The Harvard study, which was published Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry, concluded that "[i]ntermittent explosive disorder is a highly prevalent, persistent, and seriously impairing adolescent mental disorder that is both understudied and undertreated."

Do the bullet points below describe your teen?

  • Dysfunctional anger
  • Destructive or violent behavior
  • Starts as early as 12
  • Up to three times more common in boys
  • Triggered by humiliation and fear

Erika Heckman of The New Foundation has seen it all. Her organization specializes in helping teens and their families work through intermittent explosive disorder and the issues it often raises.

"There is help out there for these families," she said, pointing out that families often have trouble asking for help, especially if they're not aware of the option available to them.

Teens are prone to emotional outbursts every now and then. It's part of growing up. But when do ordinary bouts of anger cross the line into IED?

Heckman said parents need to ask themselves of those outbursts are a significant change in their kids' behavior from when they were younger. Do the reactions fit the situations or is everything out of proportion? Is the behavior particularly destructive? Does it impede child's quality of life or interfere with school?

"Those are all times you want to go ahead and seek out additional help," Heckman said.

She went on to explain that conversations with your kids can be very important in determining what's going on with them.

"We know that anger is usually a secondary emotion and usually there's something behind that that's a harder emotion to express -- shame, guilt, fear, sadness," she said.

The New Foundation
1200 N. 77th St.
Scottsdale, Arizona 85257