Most adults expect that young people, as part of growing up, will rail against the system, any system. But research from the Department of Health Care Policy at HMS finds that the extent and degree of anger among adolescents is far greater, and far more destructive, than many have realized.
Approximately six million U.S. adolescents have experienced an anger outburst that involved threatening violence, destroying property, or engaging in violence toward others, according to a report in the July 2 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry by a research team led by Ronald Kessler, the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at HMS. These severe attacks of uncontrollable anger meet the criteria for a diagnosis of what is known as intermittent explosive disorder, a syndrome characterized by persistent uncontrollable anger attacks not accounted for by other mental disorders. The disorder is associated with behavioral problems that manifest later in life, including depression and substance abuse.
The study, based on the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, a face-to-face survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adolescents, indicates that intermittent explosive disorder is a severe, chronic, commonly occurring disorder that begins in late childhood. Yet the study also shows that youths with this disorder are undertreated. Although 37.8 percent of adolescents with intermittent explosive disorder obtained treatment for emotional problems in the 12 months prior to the study interview, only 6.5 percent received treatment specifically for anger. The researchers argue for the importance of identifying and treating the disorder early, perhaps through school-based violence-prevention programs.