Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) falls in the category of impulse-control disorders. The condition is characterized by a failure to resist aggressive impulses, resulting in serious assaults, property destruction, or frequent verbal aggression in the form of temper tantrums or tirades. Examples of this behavior include threatening to or actually hurting another person and purposefully breaking or damaging an object of value.
The degree of aggressiveness expressed during an episode is grossly out of proportion to any provocation or situational stress. The individual may describe the episodes as "spells" or "attacks" in which the explosive behavior is preceded by a sense of tension or arousal and followed immediately by a sense of relief. Often genuine regret is expressed after the outburst. Later, the individual may also feel upset, remorseful, or embarrassed about the behavior.
Typically beginning in late childhood or adolescence, the disorder often precedes—and may predispose for—later depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders. Conservative estimates suggest that intermittent explosive disorder can be found in 2.7 percent of the general population.
Most patients are young men with a history that will often involve frequent traffic accidents, moving violations, and possibly sexual impulsivity. These patients may exhibit extreme sensitivity to alcohol.