Anger is a normal emotion and at one time or another, almost all of humankind has experienced an outburst to one degree or another. When anger becomes impulsive and explosive, it deserves a much closer look. Whether you’ve been the aggressor or the victim of someone else’s sudden explosive outbursts of anger, it is in your interest to get a better understanding of the possible underlying causes.

Characteristics of Sudden Explosive Anger

From a clinical standpoint, Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is very real and can be very damaging if left untreated. What degree of behavior justifies a formal diagnosis?

Physical or verbal aggression toward property, people or animals with or without actual damage occurring two or more times a week for at least a period of 90 days, or at least three episodes of explosion within a 12-month period where damage did occur is considered the bare minimum.

If criteria are not met for a formal diagnosis, it’s still possible to have explosive anger episodes that need addressing.

The aggressive episodes typically last less than 30 minutes, but that’s plenty of time to wreak some pretty devastating havoc. Also, these tirades are not premeditated. The aggressor has a loss of control and acts completely on raw, unbridled impulse. An analogy is a tornado spinning out of control without known direction, even to itself, leaving nothing but chaos and destruction in its wake.


Like most behavioral issues, this too is thought to have links to both biological and environmental factors – nature and nurture. Some researchers believe IED can be passed down the genetic line. Others put more emphasis on environmental influences starting in young adulthood.

The cold hard truth is it’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause that applies to all cases and it would be simplistic to attempt to do so. It is also understandable to see where both could be viable factors in a single case.

The risk factors, however, give a pretty good idea of what to look for if you are dealing with sudden explosive anger outbursts as either the aggressor or the victim. The risk factors are:

  • Male
  • Exposure to violence at a young age
  • Exposure to explosive behavior patterns, especially at a young age
  • Past physical and/or emotional trauma

It’s also important to consider an underlying medical condition, such as dementia or traumatic brain injury history, an adverse reaction to prescription medication, and illicit drug use/abuse as being a probable culprit for uncontrolled anger outbursts.

Beyond the Statistics and Manuals

As a human being, if you’ve experienced outbursts of rage, you’ve probably also tried to minimalize the explosions by telling yourself it wasn’t really that bad or that you can control the episodes if you want to. It’s probably also true that you got a rush when you flew off the handle. It felt good, if even for just a moment, almost as if you did have complete control of what you were doing, and the eruption was purposeful.

A truer depiction though, is that there are long-term detrimental effects of sudden outbursts of explosive anger. It can ruin relationships and end careers. It can leave you with legal complications, an extremely low opinion of yourself or others, and even more importantly leave physical and mental scars on yourself, the people you love, and defenseless animals. Not to mention the destruction of property.

Uncontrolled anger is an extremely unhealthy way of dealing with life’s frustrations, and the worst part about it is that it doesn’t even have to be a big event that ignites the fuse. The level of control felt during this state of mania is a direct reflection of feelings of loss of control (realized or feared/anticipated) in the lead-up to the event.

What’s the Outlook?

It’s impossible to generalize as each person is completely responsible for their own actions and reactions. Predicting an outlook with any semblance of reliability depends upon each person, individually. The first step though, as with most other behavioral issues, is to realize there is a problem and that explosive outbursts are not okay.

Luckily, there are several modalities for treating sudden outbursts of anger. Counselors teach their clients healthier ways of dealing with unwarranted anger episodes. Anger management classes and support groups are other viable options.

There are also prescription medications that attempt to take the edge off and assist in curbing anger episodes on a chemical level. There are also homeopathic options for managing explosive anger outbursts for those who prefer natural alternatives.

Whatever avenue you choose, it’s critical to get it under control sooner rather than later. The more time you waste not getting help, the more risk you put on yourself and others. Taking responsibility for your explosive nature is the first step in regaining the life you, and your loved ones, deserve.