Teen Anger Could Be Something More Than Mere Angst
July 4, 2012

Teenage Anger – More Than Mere Angst

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new study is now saying that what every teen experiences during their hormone-riddled and turbulent ages isn´t always a case of teenage angst; It could be Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or IED for short.

When life and its many challenges prove to be too much for teenagers, it´s easy to fly off the handle in a fit of anger. However, as many youth have reported experiencing “uncontrollable anger” which involved life-threatening violence and the destruction of property, some doctors are suggesting these kids may meet a reconfigured criteria for IED. According to their surveys, nearly 8%–or 6 million–teens can fall into this brand new characterization.

Doctors from Harvard Medical School surveyed an estimated 6,500 American teens within the ages of 13 and 17 as well as their parents. According to their research, the newly classified IED was more common than they thought. Not only is it more common, it can also be more severe and persistent.

The authors of this study say kids can start showing signs of IED during the “late childhood” years and display it all the way through their adolescence. Of course, those kids who do display IED are said to experience other problems later in life, such as depression and substance abuse.

In addition to looking for IED in their 6,500 participants, the Harvard doctors also found that many with IED behaviors weren´t receiving the help they needed. Of the survey participants, 38% of those with IED symptoms received treatment for emotional problems in the year prior to the survey. Only 17% of these teens treated for emotional problems–just 6.5% of them had diagnosable IED–were treated specifically for anger.

The authors of this study are concerned that IED is not only misunderstood, but also under diagnosed.

“The number of PubMed research reports dealing with panic attacks is roughly 60 times the number dealing with anger attacks even though the lifetime prevalence of IED is considerably higher than the prevalence of panic disorder,” write the authors in their paper, according to Alexandra Sifferlin for TIME's Healthland column.

Senior author Ronald Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, says the key to treating IED is getting ahead of it and diagnosing it early.

“It´s a problem because it really gets in the way of your life,” says Kessler. “There are lots of things people don´t get treatment for because it doesn´t really impact them. This does. The problem is an awful lot of people have it – more than I thought – it´s awfully chronic, and it´s impairing.”

To meet the definition of IED, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  says a person must have at least 3 episodes of “impulsive aggressiveness grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor” at any point in their lifetime, youth years or not. The current study narrowed this definition even further to require 3 attacks by youths in a single year. According to their studies, many hormone-riddled youths, already prone to fits of anger, fit the bill.

“I think one reason [IED] is understudied is that people who have these anger problems very often do not consider it a problem. They don´t go in for help. They may get arrested, but they don´t seek help on their own,” says Kessler. “Some things like this and other social disorders can fall through the cracks, and this is one of them.”

The results of the study are published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.