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Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Alternate Names

  • episodic dyscontrol syndrome


Intermittent explosive disorder is marked by sudden, unpredictable acts of violent, aggressive behavior in otherwise normal persons. The reaction is out of proportion to the event that triggers or provokes the outburst.

What is going on in the body?

The exact cause of intermittent explosive disorder is not known. Some evidence suggests there may be a link between this disorder and mild neurological problems similar to those associated with some learning disabilities.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The cause of intermittent explosive disorder is not known. It may be caused by an abnormality in the nervous system. Things that increase a person's risk for the disorder include:
  • a caregiver who is antisocial
  • child abuse and neglect
  • conflict with a spouse or significant other
  • parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
  • lower socioeconomic status
  • parents who are not consistent in their availability or discipline
  • psychiatric illness


How is the condition diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with this disorder, an individual must have had at least three episodes in his or her life where he or she lost control and committed an act of destruction, completely out of proportion to any provocation that may have occurred. Evaluation of intermittent explosive disorder begins with a medical history and physical exam. A complete psychological evaluation should be done to rule out another medical or mental disorder.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Someone who has intermittent explosive disorder may have social or legal problems as a result of the aggressive behavior. The behavior may also cause problems at home or school.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Intermittent explosive disorder is not contagious.


What are the treatments for the condition?

A combination of medication and psychological treatment is generally used to treat this disorder. A wide variety of medications have been used, including antidepressants such as fluoxetine (i.e., Prozac, Sarafem), antipsychotics, anti-anxiety agents, and anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (i.e., Dilantin). Psychotherapy with a focus on awareness of appropriate limits in social settings is often helpful.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects of medicines vary. They may include allergic reactions and drowsiness.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

With effective treatment, the person can live a normal life.


How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.


Hales, Robert, Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edition 1994

Stuart and Sundeen, Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing: 4th edition, 1991

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994

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