Real Life Anger Management: Study Finds Up to 6 Million Teens Affected by Intermittent Explosive Disorder

July 09, 2012

Real Life Anger Management: Study Finds Up to 6 Million Teens Affected by Intermittent Explosive Disorder

In case you haven’t noticed, one of Hollywood’s favorite bad boys is back on TV. Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom Anger Management recently debuted on FX and set a record for the most watched sitcom premiere in cable history. Playing a rather true-to-life version of himself, Sheen’s character is an ex-baseball player with a history of anger issues which cost him his athletic career. Making a new life as a therapist specializing in anger management, many critics have lauded the show as a form of “image rehab” for the star famous for his drug use and angry tirades. It appears, by Hollywood standards at least, that self-control isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. However, for those of us here in the real world, anger management and rage control can be an increasingly tough task to master, especially among adolescents. To that point, a new study commissioned by the National Institutes of Mental Health and led by Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School has come to some startling conclusions about this country’s youth. The most potent of these conclusions was that “Nearly two-thirds of adolescents (63.3%) reported lifetime anger attacks that involved destroying property, threatening violence, or engaging in violence.” Looking at the Numbers “Intermittent Explosive Disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement” was recently published in the Archives of General Psychology and its conclusions go far beyond that first startling percentage. In fact, this study provides other mental health professionals as well as educators with some keen insights into the prevalence of anger management problems among our adolescent population today and what those issues really mean. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, a face-to-face survey which was conducted throughout the country and included 10,148 U.S. teens, researchers began to look at what these bursts of anger mean and how it is impacting the degree of violence found among today’s youth. Though two out of three young people today report anger attacks that could lead to a classification of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (or IED), these numbers are somewhat misleading. In fact, only about 1 in 12 young people meet the DSM-IV/CIDI criteria for a lifetime classification of this disorder. This number, however, is far larger than current statistics on treatment would dictate. Diagnosing and Treating IED According to the DSM-IV, a diagnosis of IED requires that a person has at least three lifetime episodes of aggression which is, “grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor.” However, in order to get a better picture of IED ad hoc, the researchers in this study also excluded any teen who had a comorbid disorder that could also be a precipitator for this aggression, such as bi-polar disorder or ADHD. Still, one in twelve young people in this study were found to meet DSM-IV criteria for IED. Without a general acceptance of the prevalence of IED among this nation’s youth, its treatment is likewise tough. Symptoms of this disorder will display, on average, by age 12. However, a little more than one third of those with IED symptoms (37.8%) did receive some degree of treatment for emotional disorders. Furthermore, among those, only 6.5% were treated for anger management problems specifically. Part of this problem stems from a lack of awareness of IED and its ultimate consequences, a fact which the authors of this study hope to change. Important Conclusions The stark reality of these numbers alone is enough to concern parents, teachers, and school counselor alike. Just knowing that, when being totally honest, two thirds of this nation’s youth admitted to violent anger attacks is enough to shock us. However, when this reality is coupled with the lack of treatment currently being given for those who meet diagnostic criteria for IED, the problem is compounded. The icing on this proverbial cake of rage is that those with IED are far more likely to present with comorbid disorders such as anxiety and substance abuse. Though Anger Management seems to be working for Charlie Sheen, the lack of services offered to those who are far younger (and far less wealthy) than him needs to be addressed as well. As the study’s authors contend, “intermittent explosive disorder is a highly prevalent, persistent, and seriously impairing adolescent mental disorder that is both understudied and undertreated.”  

In case you haven’t noticed, one of Hollywood’s favorite bad boys is back on TV. Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom Anger Management recently debuted on FX and set a record for the most watched sitcom premiere in cable history. Playing a rather true-to-life version of himself, Sheen’s character is an ex-baseball player with a history of anger issues which cost him his athletic career. Making a new life as a therapist specializing in anger management, many critics have lauded the show as a form of “image rehab” for the star famous for his drug use and angry tirades. It appears, by Hollywood standards at least, that self-control isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

However, for those of us here in the real world, anger management and rage control can be an increasingly tough task to master, especially among adolescents. To that point, a new study commissioned by the National Institutes of Mental Health and led by Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School has come to some startling conclusions about this country’s youth. The most potent of these conclusions was that “Nearly two-thirds of adolescents (63.3%) reported lifetime anger attacks that involved destroying property, threatening violence, or engaging in violence.”

Looking at the Numbers

“Intermittent Explosive Disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement” was recently published in the Archives of General Psychology and its conclusions go far beyond that first startling percentage. In fact, this study provides other mental health professionals as well as educators with some keen insights into the prevalence of anger problems among our adolescent population today and what those issues really mean.

Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, a face-to-face survey which was conducted throughout the country and included 10,148 U.S. teens, researchers began to look at what these bursts of anger mean and how it is impacting the degree of violence found among today’s youth. Though two out of three young people today report anger attacks that could lead to a classification of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (or IED), these numbers are somewhat misleading. In fact, only about 1 in 12 young people meet the DSM-IV/CIDI criteria for a lifetime classification of this disorder. This number, however, is far larger than current statistics on treatment would dictate.

Diagnosing and Treating IED

According to the DSM-IV, a diagnosis of IED requires that a person has at least three lifetime episodes of aggression which is, “grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor.” However, in order to get a better picture of IED ad hoc, the researchers in this study also excluded any teen who had a comorbid disorder that could also be a precipitator for this aggression, such as bi-polar disorder or ADHD. Still, one in twelve young people in this study were found to meet DSM-IV criteria for IED.

Without a general acceptance of the prevalence of IED among this nation’s youth, its treatment is likewise tough. Symptoms of this disorder will display, on average, by age 12.  However, a little more than one third of those with IED symptoms (37.8%) did receive some degree of treatment for emotional disorders. Furthermore, among those, only 6.5% were treated for anger management problems specifically. Part of this problem stems from a lack of awareness of IED and its ultimate consequences, a fact which the authors of this study hope to change.

Important Conclusions

The stark reality of these numbers alone is enough to concern parents, teachers, and school counselor alike. Just knowing that, when being totally honest, two thirds of this nation’s youth admitted to violent anger attacks is enough to shock us. However, when this reality is coupled with the lack of treatment currently being given for those who meet diagnostic criteria for IED, the problem is compounded. The icing on this proverbial cake of rage is that those with IED are far more likely to present with comorbid disorders such as anxiety and substance abuse.

Though Anger Management seems to be working for Charlie Sheen, the lack of services offered to those who are far younger (and far less wealthy) than him needs to be addressed as well. As the study’s authors contend, “intermittent explosive disorder is a highly prevalent, persistent, and seriously impairing adolescent mental disorder that is both understudied and undertreated.”





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