Teenage Tempers: One in 12 Teens Have Anger Disorders

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Turns out you might not be able to chalk your kid’s angry temper up to teenage angst after all.

According to a new study done by Harvard Medical School and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, nearly 8% of teenagers exhibit violent outbursts on a regular enough basis to classify as a mental health disorder (that’s 1 in 12!).

The survey looked at more than 10,000 teenagers and parents, and has found that this sort of chronic, violent anger, called “intermittent explosive disorder,” is in fact one of the most common mental health disorders to plague adolescents. The study also found that it is two to three times more common in boys than girls.

Intermittent explosive disorder is characterized by frequent outbursts that are “grossly out of proportion to the provocation” or circumstances surrounding an individual. For now, the newest draft of the handbook of psychiatric diagnoses requires a person to be ages 18 or older to be diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, although it concedes that the diagnosis can be made in younger children who also show symptoms of ADD, ADHD, or other behavioral disorders. This may be changed before the 2012 handbook is published.

The study also discovered that of teens who showed signs of intermittent explosive disorder, fewer than 7% of them were being treated for their anger. Even more unfortunately, fewer than 50% of individuals who are treated with drugs or therapy see significant improvement of well-being. Often, therapies must be combined to attain better results.

Instead of scrambling to treat the alcoholism and drug abuse that is so prevalent with teens, perhaps we can now treat anger, the potential underlying cause of these addictions, and stop the problem before it starts. It is crucial to identify the problem before teens have the opportunity to become dangers to themselves or others.

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