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Intermittent explosive disorder affects up to 16 million Americans

A little-known mental disorder marked by episodes of unwarranted anger is more common than previously thought, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found. Depending upon how broadly it's defined, intermittent explosive disorder (IED) affects as many as 7.3 percent of adults 11.5-16 million Americans in their lifetimes. The study is based on data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a nationally representative, face-to-face household survey of 9,282 U.S. adults, conducted in 2001-2003.

People with IED may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. Typically beginning in the early teens, the disorder often precedes and may predispose for later depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders. Nearly 82 percent of those with IED also had one of these other disorders, yet only 28.8 percent ever received treatment for their anger, report Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School, and colleagues. In the June, 2006 Archives of General Psychiatry, they suggest that treating anger early might prevent some of these co-occurring disorders from developing.

To be diagnosed with IED, an individual must have had three episodes of impulsive aggressiveness "grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor," at any time in their life, according to the standard psychiatric diagnostic manual. The person must have "all of a sudden lost control and broke or smashed something worth more than a few dollarshit or tried to hurt someoneor threatened to hit or hurt someone."

People who had three such episodes within the space of one year a more narrowly defined subgroup were found to have a much more persistent and severe disorder, particularly if they attacked both people and property. The latter group caused 3.5 times more property damage than other violent IED sub-groups. Affecting nearly 4 percent of adults within
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Contact: Jules Asher
NIMHpress@nih.gov
301-443-7855
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
5-Jun-2006


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