“Rage-aholic” behavior and intermittent explosive disorder

Mayo Clinic webpage

Mayo Clinic webpage

Informally, we might call them “rage-aholics.” You know, those persons who dial up their anger from 0 to 90 miles per hour in a split second, seemingly at the slightest provocation. They account for many instances of negative and abusive workplace behaviors: Bullying, incivility, and physical violence. We also see plenty of them in domestic violence situations.

Some of these individuals may have a clinically diagnosable condition called intermittent explosive disorder. The Mayo Clinic describes IED this way:

Intermittent explosive disorder involves repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation. Road rage, domestic abuse, throwing or breaking objects, or other temper tantrums may be signs of intermittent explosive disorder.

These intermittent, explosive outbursts cause you significant distress, negatively impact your relationships, work and school, and they can have legal and financial consequences.

Intermittent explosive disorder is a chronic disorder that can continue for years, although the severity of outbursts may decrease with age. Treatment involves medications and psychotherapy to help you control your aggressive impulses.

IED appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and the current 5th edition of the DSM now recognizes verbal aggression as a qualifying behavior. The National Institute for Mental Health has estimated that some 16 million Americans may be affected by IED during some point in their lives.

I’ll offer my hypothesis that online communications, especially e-mail and social media, are fueling behaviors that might be dubbed rage-aholic and could reflect the presence of IED. We’re certainly seeing a lot of that rapidly dialed-up anger online these days, and it’s adding to our stress and anxiety levels. Alas, the comments following many an article or Facebook posting about the current political season might suggest an epidemic.

2 responses

  1. These aren’t the best analogies, but comparing social media tantrums with clinically diagnosed IED is like comparing a cough to COPD; or, it’s like hearing someone complain of fatigue and then publicly stating they probably have cancer.

    Of course people can and will speculate, but for some folks, and in some circles, the mental health ‘labeling’ becomes judgments and accusations. Caution is needed when applying or even suggesting mental health diagnoses. It matters.

    To me, a lot of the negative we see in on-line behaviors is due to the anonymity and distance social media affords.

    • I agree that speculation of where IED may manifest itself should not be confused for an individual diagnosis. Indeed, I intentionally used the phrase “could reflect the presence of IED” to underscore that point and stated it as a hypothesis, not a scientifically known truth.

      The kind of raging, hateful, threatening verbiage that I increasingly read online goes way beyond mere tantrums or negativity. Journalists writing on anything remotely controversial are regularly treated to profanity laced tirades and even threats of death, rape, harm done to their kids, etc., either through publicly posted comments or private e-mails. The fact that (thankfully) the overwhelming share of these threats will never be carried out is cold comfort.

      If the estimates of IED prevalence are anywhere close to accurate, we’re talking somewhere in the millions. That behavior is going to be expressed in one way or the other, and anonymous online communication is a natural medium for it.

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