Can PTSD Cause Anger Outbursts?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a terrifying or traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include vivid flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Many people with PTSD also struggle with anger and irritability. So can PTSD actually lead to aggressive anger outbursts?

What Causes Anger With PTSD?

Anger and aggression are not official symptoms of PTSD according to the DSM-5 criteria. However, research shows that many people with PTSD do experience issues with anger, aggression, and even violence.

There are a few reasons why PTSD often leads to anger outbursts:

  • Hyperarousal – PTSD causes physical changes in the brain and body. One of these effects is known as hyperarousal, which means the body’s fear response system is stuck in overdrive. This makes people with PTSD highly reactive to any perceived threat. Their fight-or-flight response is triggered very easily, even by minor irritations, which can quickly escalate into anger and aggression.
  • Emotional Dysregulation – PTSD disrupts the brain’s ability to properly regulate emotions. People with PTSD often experience intense and uncontrolled emotional reactions that are out of proportion to the situation. Anger is one of the emotions that becomes dysregulated.
  • Irritability – Those with PTSD are in a constant state of anxiety and stress. Over time, this leads to overall irritability, short temper, and low frustration tolerance. Small annoyances or perceived slights can easily set off an angry reaction.
  • Learned Aggression – If the original trauma involved violence or aggression, a PTSD survivor may subconsciously learn aggressive responses. They come to see anger as a survival mechanism or a way to regain control.
  • Substance Abuse – People with PTSD frequently use drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. However, substance abuse actually makes anger and aggression worse in the long run. Intoxication lowers inhibitions while amplified PTSD symptoms.
  • Sleep Deprivation – Insomnia is very common with PTSD, which leads to fatigue and impaired thinking. Lack of sleep reduces self-control and makes anger outbursts more likely.

What Do Anger Outbursts Look Like?

The anger and aggression caused by PTSD can take many forms:

  • Verbal anger like yelling, shouting, or screaming at others
  • Making threats or verbally abusive language
  • Road rage or impulse control issues while driving
  • Physically lashing out by throwing objects, punching walls, slamming doors
  • Getting into physical altercations like shoving or hitting
  • Destroying property due to loss of control
  • Intense glaring or giving the “evil eye”
  • Making hostile social media posts

This anger can be directed at loved ones, strangers, or no one at all. These rage episodes are often followed by intense guilt, shame, and confusion since they are so out of character.

Getting Help

If you suffer from PTSD-fueled anger issues, know that you are not alone and recovery is possible. A mental health professional can help you get to the root of your anger triggers. Therapy provides tools to manage PTSD symptoms and regulate emotions. Medications may also be prescribed to reduce hypervigilance or stabilize mood swings.

With professional treatment and daily self-care, people with PTSD can regain control over their anger. Support groups can also help survivors realize they are not alone. It takes time, patience, and practice – but you can overcome the anger that often accompanies PTSD.