Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adolescents have experienced an “anger attack” that involved threatening violence, destroying property or engaging in violence toward others, according to new research.
These attacks of uncontrollable anger are much more common among teens than previously recognized, notes a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School.
In the past, such anger attacks may have been referred to by parents as having a temper tantrum or meltdown.
The study is based on the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, a national survey of 10,148 U.S. teenagers.
Besides finding that nearly two-thirds of adolescents in the U.S. have a history of anger attacks, it also found that one in 12 young people — close to 6 million teens — meet criteria for a diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), a syndrome characterized by persistent uncontrollable anger attacks not accounted for by other mental disorders.
IED usually appears in late childhood and tends to be quite persistent through the middle years of life, according to Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and leader of the team that carried out the study.
It is also associated with a number of other problems, including depression and substance abuse, he said.
Study findings indicate that IED is a severe, chronic, commonly occurring disorder among adolescents.
The study also shows that IED is under-treated: Although 37.8 percent of kids with IED got treatment for emotional problems in the 12 months prior to the study interview, only 6.5 percent received treatment specifically for anger. The researchers argue for the importance of identifying and treating IED early, perhaps through school-based violence prevention programs.
“If we can detect IED early and intervene with effective treatment right away, we can prevent a substantial amount of future violence perpetration and associated psychopathology,” Kessler said.
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 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The investigators used an even more stringent definition, requiring that adolescents not meet criteria for other mental disorders associated with aggression, including bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. As a result, researchers found that 1 in 12 adolescents met criteria for IED.
The results were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Source: Harvard Medical School