Anger can be a natural emotional response, but how often is too often when it comes to feelings of rage?

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It’s common to express anger when life gets tough.

Anger is one way your mind reacts to perceived threats. It can be a survival mechanism that tells you to defend yourself against attack.

Controlling your anger can be a big part of daily life. After all, it isn’t always practical to act on every impulse of retaliation.

However, when you’re unable to control your anger or seem to have unprovoked outbursts of rage, you may be experiencing “rageaholic“ behaviors.

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“Rageaholic“ isn’t a diagnosis recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

This doesn’t mean rageaholic symptoms aren’t real, or that the uncontrollable flashes of anger you experience aren’t significant.

Rageaholism does exist. It’s been written about and explored in research, and it’s an informal term used to describe someone who seems unable to control their temper.

Often, a rageaholic will display unprovoked bouts of rage or a level of anger excessive for the given situation.

Since rageaholism isn’t a formal diagnosis, rageaholic behaviors and symptoms can vary significantly from person to person, and can include:

  • Physical symptoms: headache, stomachache, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, dizziness, shaking or trembling, feeling flushed, sweating, rapid or elevated heart rate
  • Emotional symptoms: spitefulness, irritation, anxiety, resentfulness, sadness, depression, frustration, hate, disbelief, disgust
  • Behavioral symptoms: yelling, screaming, crying, aggression, violence, elevated voice, feeling easily irritated, not being receptive to humor, pacing, fidgeting, sarcasm, impulsivity
  • Cognitive symptoms: negative self-talk, hostile thoughts and images, thoughts of harm, ruminating thoughts about revenge

How anger is expressed

Though symptoms of anger are present during rageaholic behaviors, rageaholism is typically about how anger is expressed.

A rageaholic is someone who expresses symptoms of anger in an extreme or unwarranted manner, such as:

  • frequent outbursts
  • excessive anger with no cause
  • overreaction of anger to any frustrating situation
  • quick desire to resort to physical altercations

Feeling angry all the time, or being unable to control your anger, can’t always be linked to a single cause. There can be many reasons you might experience rageaholic behavior, including:

  • genetics
  • past trauma
  • underdeveloped coping skills
  • overwhelming current life circumstances
  • frequently misinterpreting situations
  • growing up with a parent who displayed uncontrolled anger
  • being brought up in an environment that accepted violent behavior or aggression
  • mental health conditions
  • substance use disorders

When it comes to the behaviors associated with rageaholism, intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is one mental health condition that fits the symptoms more than most.

With IED, a person’s level of aggression is significantly out of proportion to the situation and is impulsive and anger-based.

Signs of IED

The DSM-5 defines IED as verbal or physical aggression toward:

  • property
  • animals
  • individuals

There are two separate types of diagnostic criteria for IED, per the DSM-5. To qualify for a diagnosis, you must experience at least one of the two types of outbursts.

Aggressive behavior and IED

According to one set of diagnostic criteria for IED in the DSM-5, the aggressive behavior must occur twice weekly for 3 months on average.

Additionally, to meet this set of criteria for an IED diagnosis, any physical aggression should not result in:

  • damage
  • destruction
  • physical injury

IED behavioral outbursts

The DSM-5 also defines a second set of diagnostic criteria for IED as experiencing three behavioral outbursts within a 12-month period that cause:

  • destruction
  • damage
  • injury

Diagnosis

As a formal diagnosis, IED must result in distress or impairment that affects regular functioning or has legal consequences. It also can’t be otherwise explained by another mental or physical health condition.

Prevalence

Not all uncontrollable anger can be considered IED. The most recent data on IED suggests only 0.8% of the global population lives with this condition.

On the other hand, undefined inappropriate, intense, or poorly controlled anger may affect as many as 7.8% of people in the United States.

Being around someone who is unpredictable with their anger and rage responses can be challenging and even scary.

You might feel as though you’re walking on eggshells, or that you can’t predict what response you’ll get, even when you do the “right” thing.

Although stressful, there are different strategies you can take to help navigate daily interactions when you’re around rageaholic behaviors.

Prioritize your safety

Not everyone expresses unpredictable anger in the same way. If you’re around someone with rageaholic behaviors, consider maintaining some basic safety strategies, such as:

  • keeping a safe distance during potentially explosive moments
  • interacting with them in a public space
  • letting family and friends know where you are and who you’re with

Focus on communication

Anger can sometimes cause someone to jump to conclusions. You can help a person with rageaholic behaviors slow down their reactions by focusing on your own communication.

Trying to identify what’s underneath their anger can help you calmly express that you’re listening and you understand. The more calm and rational you can remain, the better the chances are that their anger will simmer down.

But if the moment feels too heated, you can politely disengage from the conversation in a nonconfrontational way.

An example of calm disengagement

“I think we’re both feeling very strongly about this right now. Let’s take a few minutes and then come back to it.”

Help avoid points of frustration

When someone displays rageaholic behaviors, there may be an underlying medical condition.

While they’re exploring what might be at the root of their rage, you can help them maintain calm by eliminating things you know might light an emotional fuse.

An example of this might be if they feel frustrated every time they see there’s laundry to be folded. Putting the basket out of sight can help avoid any unnecessary anger.

It’s not about folding the laundry whenever you have a second so they won’t get mad. It’s about maintaining calm until there’s time to fold the laundry.

Think about your timing

If you have to discuss important topics with someone who experiences rageaholism, timing might make a difference in the response you get.

Outbursts of anger may be more likely if that person:

  • is tired
  • had a long day at work
  • just got done doing something mentally demanding

Ask for ways to help relieve burdens

Feeling angry isn’t always inappropriate, even if the level of anger seems excessive.

If you notice someone seems more irritable or frustrated lately, asking them how you can help may improve the situation.

Sometimes, life gives you a full plate of challenges. Sharing responsibilities can take the weight off someone’s shoulders just enough to provide relief.

However, it can be important for your mental health and overall well-being to prioritize your own needs when angry interactions get to be too much. In these moments, consider setting clear boundaries and disengaging.

Therapy

Seeking treatment for rageaholic behaviors can be critical for learning how to cope and maintain relationships. Suggesting counseling or therapy may not always be well received in an angry moment, so consider waiting until a calm period to discuss possible treatment options.

Domestic violence help

If you’re experiencing domestic violence, support is available:

In addition, you can visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a domestic violence prevention advocacy group with a list of resources for relationship abuse help.

Dealing with rageaholism may feel frustrating, but it is treatable.

You don’t need a formal diagnosis to seek help from a therapist or counselor. Talking with someone about what you’re experiencing can help you discover why anger has become such a large part of your life.

Your therapist can then make a recommendation for treatment that may include:

Anger is a part of your body’s primal survival process. It’s intended to provide you with the desire and physiological ability to fight back against a threat.

When anger is uncontrolled, excessive, or hurtful to those around you, you may be dealing with more than just a survival mechanism — you may be dealing with rageaholic behaviors.

But rageaholic tendencies and behaviors are treatable. A therapist or counselor can help design a treatment plan that works for you.

If you’re living with an underlying mental health condition, a mental health professional can help you start the process of recovery and symptom management, so rage doesn’t become a part of everyday life.

To learn more about rageaholic behaviors, find a support group, or connect with local resources, visit Rageaholics Anonymous.

If you’re ready to get help but don’t know where to begin, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding professional mental health support.