With all those raging hormones, every teenager is bound to “lose it” at one time or another. But a recent study suggests that adolescents’ attacks of anger may indicate something more serious than your standard puberty-related mood swings: nearly two-thirds of youth report having had a bout of uncontrollable anger that involved threatening violence, destroying property or engaging in violence toward others, and nearly 8% — or close to 6 million teens — meet the criteria for intermittent explosive disorder (IED), which is characterized by persistent, out-of-control anger attacks that can’t be explained by a mental or medical disorder or substance use.
The findings, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, came from national surveys of nearly 6,500 American teens, aged 13 to 17, and their parents. The researchers found that IED was more common than thought, and that it is severe and persistent; kids usually start showing signs of IED in late childhood and the disorder persists through adolescence, the authors say. IED in teens is also linked with later problems, like depression and substance abuse in adulthood.
The study found, however, that many teens weren’t getting the help they needed. Among the study participants, 38% of those with IED received treatment for emotional problems in the year prior to the survey, but only 17% of these teens — or just 6.5% of all teens who had diagnosable IED — had received treatment specifically for anger.