Although reliable data is scarce, people with intermittent explosive disorder are more likely to live in correctional institutions or psychiatric facilities than the general population, among which the disorder is relatively rare. It appears to be more common in men than women.

The disorder usually becomes apparent during adolescence or the following decade. Symptoms may appear abruptly or represent a continuation of behavior that started during childhood. The condition usually improves with age, but it can worsen as a result of head trauma, brain injury, alcohol addiction or other substance abuse.

Risk factors in childhood

Risk factors include physical or emotional causes that predispose a person to episodes of impulsive anger or aggression. In childhood, predisposing physical factors might include exposure to alcohol or drugs, head trauma, seizures and brain infections or inflammations.

Psychological or emotional factors that could predispose a person to intermittent explosive disorder include growing up in an unstable family environment, marked by severe frustration, lack of a positive role model, physical and emotional abuse, alcoholism, violence and/or life-threatening situations.

Risk factors in adulthood

As people mature, the main risk factor for intermittent explosive disorder is abuse of alcohol or another addictive substance. Because people finish developing basic character and personality traits during early adulthood, certain characteristics, such as being impulsive, antisocial, sensation seeking or addiction-prone, also become risk factors.

People with jobs or social preferences that put them in confrontational situations also are at risk. For example, people confronted socially or professionally with situations that remind them of frustrating or dangerous situations from childhood may lose control and explode.

As people age, they have a greater chance of developing medical or neurological problems that increase the risk of intermittent explosive disorder, including epilepsy, brain tumors, degenerative diseases and hormone imbalances.