Debate Contines Over Uncontrollable Anger as a Disease
> 7/13/2007 10:25:21 AM

A chronic tendency toward simmering feelings of anger wont to explode in 10-20 minute bursts of untethered rage is not simply a personality defect, it is a certifiable disorder, and new studies reveal that it is far more common than previously thought. Intermittent Explosive Disorder has been in the DSMV for more than 25 years, but has only recently begun to receive the amount of attention it clearly deserves. Despite previous estimates that it affects as little as 0.5 percent of the general population, a 2006 Harvard study estimates that as many as 1 in 10 American men suffer from IED, a disorder manifested by misbehavior ranging from deadly road rage and spousal abuse to one-way screaming matches with televisions and household appliances.

Perpetual scapegoat serotonin again receives the lion's share of blame for this condition- low serotonin levels lead to inactivity in the brain's frontal lobes, disabling the rational process and lowering levels of control over emotional response systems. Perpetrators, despite how their dispositions may appear, are not usually irrational people - they simply seem to have trouble controlling urges that are dangerously disproportionate to whatever triggers brought them about. Subsequent feelings of guilt and attempts at reparation are very common.

Unsurprisingly, those with mood disorders, anxiety problems, eating disorders or chronic substance abuse are far more likely to display signs of IED - and vice versa. Its roots are most likely that time-tested combination of genetics and circumstance, ie nature and nurture: study subjects with "troubled" home lives or particularly punitive, short-tempered parents are IED's most likely victims. Childhood tendencies toward bullying and destructive behavior (preoccupation with fire, harming small animals, destruction of property etc.) also point toward potentially disruptive incidents in the future. Affected individuals often feel threatened by everyday circumstances, reading aggression into the actions of neutral third parties and lashing out in ways that can surprise and terrify others, particularly if they are not familiars.

Anger, of course, is a fundamental human emotion, and labeling it, even in dramatic excess, as a mental disorder is a move that has drawn the ire of more than one mental health professional. As in the case of many scientifically labeled behavioral deficiencies, some argue that this diagnosis is simply a method by which to validate a subject's angry behavior as the unfortunate symptom of a larger, uncontrollable disorder, thereby absolving offenders of any true responsibility for their often destructive actions.

Nonetheless, chronic, unresolved anger is a very physical condition whose detriments have been very well established: "...studies have shown that angry men are three times more likely to develop premature cardiovascular disease, six times more likely to have an early heart attack, and three times more likely to have a stroke." Over time, angry outbursts harden the arteries and push blood pressure up in dramatic ways. The rush of violent, reactionary behavior is far more likely to induce heart attack; IED incidents are most frequently characterized by tightness in the chest, tremor and heart palpitation, and pressure headaches.

So what is the solution? Should one retire to the basement and the company of a punching bag to avoid a verbal confrontation with a spouse? Unfortunately, the idea that taking one's anger out in a physical way (hopefully on a nearby inanimate object) will vent and thereby relieve symptoms is a largely discredited one. Studies have shown that such actions actually increase, rather than dilute, the source emotions. Distanced self-analysis may be the most effective response; unfortunately, this is the very method which IED renders all but impossible. In the midst of an emotional explosion, individuals are best advised to sit back, take several deep, measured breaths, and ask themselves why they are reacting in this way and how they could better approach whatever problem has prompted said response. If this technique proves unsuccessful, patients can try several medications: SSRI's, anticonvulsants and mood regulators such as Lithium and Valium have proven effective, but particular combinations inevitably differ among individuals. Guided meditation and related activities are also an option, assuming one's aversion to "sensitivity training" is not too great. If one's angry outbursts have repeatedly prompted statements of concern from loved ones and colleagues and simple self-awareness practices have not been enough to solve the problem on its own, a trip to the psychiatrist is most likely in order.


I have been married to someone who suffers from this problem. It is a problem because I have reached a point in which I can no longer live with him. He hates me and my older daughter and seems to blame me for everything that is wrong in his life. My older daughter is not his natural biological child and for the past 12 years he has not let me forget that fact. My daughter was three when I met him. He is very abusive and goes into an uncontrollable rage more and more often than before.
Posted by: J. B. 12/26/2007 8:22:33 AM

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