As Christians, we are instructed by Scripture — and often by each other — to guard the actions of our tongues and bodies. While we’re supposed to speak truth, we aren’t supposed to lash out in anger in ways that might hurt others. Physical or verbal outbursts because of our emotional state are usually frowned upon if they are aggressive and intent solely on wounding another.
If you grew up in any church, you surely heard this message, and if you’re new to Christianity, you probably still heard the Golden Rule as you grew up: treat others the way you want to be treated. Jesus says it like this: love your neighbor as yourself.
But what happens if poor social or emotional behavior isn’t a choice or a bad habit you picked up over the years? Aggression and poor impulse control is often linked with substance abuse disorder; chronic addiction can make you act in ways you never would otherwise. Researchers are also finding that aggression itself can be a mental health issue in those with a condition called intermittent explosive disorder, or IED. IED, says research published in Feb. 2017 by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, can also be a major risk factor for substance abuse disorder.
What is intermittent explosive disorder?
IED is a mental health disorder that impacts the way individuals respond to certain situations or manage their anger or aggression. As with many mental health issues, medical professionals aren’t yet certain exactly what causes IED, but they do note that it most often begins in childhood and is noted more in people under the age of 40 than over that age. IED might also be linked to genetic factors, brain chemistry and a person’s environment, particularly if childhood environments were traumatic or abusive.
Someone with intermittent explosive disorder is prone to repeated and sudden episodes of extreme anger, verbal outbursts or physical aggression; usually, the reaction is out of proportion with the situation. At young ages, the outbursts might be associated with temper tantrums or adolescent mood swings, but they usually go beyond what is normal in these situations.
Like addiction, IED is a chronic disorder and it can continue for years. Lack of treatment can lead to an increase in severity of the symptoms over the years. In a Christian environment, someone with IED might be told to “let go and let God,” or “temper their actions with love.” The person might try to do these things and be unable to do so because they can’t control their IED symptoms. Treatment options can include psychotherapy, ongoing counseling and medication.
How does IED relate to substance abuse?
IED impacts a surprising number of Americans. As many as 16 million people in the country deal with this disorder, which is more than the number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder combined. IED is also a major factor in the development of substance abuse disorder. According to research from Emil Coccaro, MD, and his associates, in 92.5 percent of cases where someone developed both IED and substance abuse disorder, IED came first.
Abusing drugs or alcohol can lead to aggressive behavior in some people, especially when they are high or are trying to get drugs to deal with withdrawal symptoms. However, the new research, which leveraged data from the National Comorbity Survey, suggests that chronic aggressive behavior might actually lead to substance abuse the vast majority of the time.
What does this mean for Christians suffering from IED or chronic addiction?
For anyone suffering IED, awareness of the increased risks of substance abuse can help mitigate those risks. Someone working with counselors or medical professionals to treat IED can ask about how to spot early signs of substance abuse or work with professionals to understand how to avoid triggers that could lead to addiction.
For Christians, both IED and chronic addiction can be difficult diagnoses to face. If you’ve learned that you should treat your body as a temple, follow God’s will in your life and treat others with patience, kindness and love, admitting that you have a medical condition that seems to make those actions impossible can be hard.
In reality, nothing is impossible with God, and he has made a way for any Christian to come to him and try each day to follow his will. For someone with addiction or a mental health condition such as IED, that way might look like professional treatment. If you’re struggling with an addiction or feel at risk for substance abuse disorder because of your mental health condition, don’t be afraid to reach out for help today.
At the Road to Freedom, we help people find a way back to God’s will and a sober lifestyle through proven medical and therapeutic approaches coupled with Christian counseling. Call us today to find out more about your treatment options.