Anger Outbursts May Qualify as a Treatable Disorder

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Reader’s Question

I’m angry almost all the time, including feeling hostile toward strangers for almost no reason (for example, if someone is looking at me). I have a constant feeling that I need to fight someone to prove something I’m not sure needs proving. I have a tendency to get loud and hostile even toward family. I become easily aggressive, even belligerent, and sometimes get physical with strangers. If someone does something to upset me, I feel like I can’t just walk away. What do you call my condition, and what kinds of medications are available?

Psychologist’s Reply

What you describe may fit the diagnostic label, Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Simply put, this disorder involves repeated episodes of impulsive anger and aggression that are disproportionate to the situation. So, such individuals frequently lash out at others, break things, and overreact to frustrations and perceived offenses.

It’s not clear why some people have such extreme anger problems, but the condition appears to be more common than previously recognized (and more common among men than women). Often these same individuals experience depression, bipolar disorder, and/or anxiety. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the medications used to treat Intermittent Explosive Disorder are some of the same ones used to treat these mood disorders.

Although medication may help dampen the fuse that sets off an angry outburst, it’s not liable to be a sufficient solution. Typically, cognitive-behavioral counseling is recommended in addition to medication. Such counseling helps the individual begin to identify the self-talk and assumptions that fuel extreme reactions to irritating situations and people. With practice, the person learns to intervene in response to anger triggers, rather than react to them. Like most skills, developing frustration tolerance requires guidance and practice, and becomes easier and more effective as a result. The important thing is to get started by seeking treatment now that you know that mental health professionals have a label and a set of interventions for this potentially dangerous condition.

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