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Impulsive Aggressive Behavior

By Candice Hughes ; Updated June 13, 2017

Impulsive aggressive behavior, or actions that can't be controlled and are aimed at harming the self or others, can be detrimental to relationships and lives. People suffering from impulsive aggression often feel that they can’t contain their rage and lash out without even thinking about their actions. Environmental situations, genetic dispositions and even impaired brain functioning can cause impulsive aggression. Treatment may be available for sufferers.

Psychosocial Explanation

Dr. Larry Siever of the Mount Sanai School of Medicine in New York says impulsive aggression is a characteristic of many medically diagnosable personality disorders found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the book psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health disorders. Ranging from borderline personality disorder to narcissistic personality disorder, impulsive aggression can be self-directed, often a result of a hurt ego or severe emotional pain, envy or trauma. Aggression can also be directed at others, leaving some with anti-social personality disorder in jail.

Neurobiological Explanation

In an article published in the January 2003 issue of Psychiatric News, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, researchers Antonia New and Siever found that certain systems in the brain that inhibit aggression were impaired in people who exhibited impulsive aggression. Much research shows that when certain areas of the brain-- the amygdala, orbital regions of the prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobe--are impaired by lesions, tumors or other obstructions, it can lead to aggressive behavior and rage. According to New, research evidence suggests that serotonin receptors may be impaired in subjects who lack the ability to control aggressive impulses.


In the same issue of the Psychiatric News, another article by Christine Lehmann says impulsive aggression may have a genetic background. Studying twins, the researchers found that genetic makeup can explain up to 65 percent of impulsive aggression. However, Antonia New also said that genetic background is only a small factor when coupled with environmental factors.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it's characterized by mood swings, unstable relationships, broken self-esteem or self-image and erratic behavior. One of the main symptoms of BPD is compulsive aggression. Because a person with BPD suffers from intense instability, depression, anxiety and anger that can last for moments to days, self-directed aggression is common. BPD causes emotional vulnerabilities that, when touched during an event or situation, can cause a severe and aggressive reaction.

Treatment of Aggression

Treatment is difficult when it comes to depression. According to Dr. Martin Korn, MAO inhibitors, SSRIs, lithium, anti-depressants and benzodiazepines all show some positive signs of helping those suffering from impulsive aggression, but all have serious side effects. A new drug called divalproex has been tested at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, and it shows promise for use as treatment. Most often, aggression is treated as a symptom of something else. Whether a indication of anger management issues or borderline personality disorder, the disorder itself is treated in the hopes of managing aggression and any other symptoms associated with the disorder.

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