Decoding Emotions: An In-Depth Look at Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Learn more about disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and how to find treatment near you in this comprehensive article.


This article delves into the intricacies of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, exploring the signs and symptoms to look for and how this disorder manifests in adults. We will examine the prevalence and shared vulnerabilities of mood disorders and addiction

We will discuss the importance of integrated treatment approaches. Prepare to gain a deeper understanding of this intricate topic. Discover pathways toward healing and recovery.

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

What is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a childhood-onset disorder. It is characterized by severe and recurrent temper outbursts that are out of proportion to the situation.1

DMDD was a way to provide a diagnosis for children who display:

  • Chronic and severe irritability
  • Difficulty regulating their emotions

Features of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Below are some key features of DMDD:2
  • Age of Onset: Symptoms often emerge between the ages of 6 and 10.

  • Persistent Irritability: Those with DMDD experience persistent irritability and anger. This occurs most of the day, nearly every day.

  • Temper Outbursts: These outbursts occur about three or more times per week. They are characterized by intense, extreme, and inappropriate displays of anger and frustration.

  • Mood Between Outbursts: In the periods between outbursts, the child may experience a consistent angry mood.

  • Duration of Symptoms: Symptoms of DMDD must be present for at least 12 months, with no more than a three-month period of symptom remission.

  • Impairment of Functioning: The symptoms of DMDD must cause significant impairment in important areas of functioning.

DMDD Can Coexist

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a diagnosis for children and adolescents. It does not apply to adults. 

DMDD is distinct from other disorders, but it can coexist with other disorders such as:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Signs of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is characterized by severe and recurrent temper outbursts. Some other signs and symptoms observed in those with DMDD include:

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is characterized by severe and recurrent temper outbursts.

Some other signs and symptoms observed in those with DMDD include:

  • Frequent temper outbursts
  • Persistent irritable or angry mood
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Chronic irritability
  • An exaggerated response to minor frustrations or setbacks.
  • Impaired functioning due to disruptive mood dysregulation disorder symptoms

Getting an Evaluation

If you think your child is struggling with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, get an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. They can help to determine a proper diagnosis. DMDD is a new diagnosis. 

It is crucial to consider other potential causes for the observed behaviors. It’s also important to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms.

How Does Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder Manifest in Adults?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a diagnosis only for children and adolescents. It is not applicable to adults. The symptoms and diagnostic criteria for DMDD should not be applied to adults.

It’s worth noting that mood dysregulation can manifest in adults through other psychiatric disorders, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Other mood disorders

These conditions can involve difficulties in regulating emotions. This can include experiencing intense and prolonged periods of irritability, anger, or mood swings.

Types of Mood Disorders Seen in Adults

Though disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is not a diagnosis for adults, there are several mood disorders that can affect adults. Below are some examples of mood disorders like DMDD.3

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder is often referred to as depression. MDD may involve symptoms of:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder involves recurring episodes of mood swings between depressive episodes. It also includes periods of mania or hypomania. Depressive episodes are like those in MDD. 

But, manic or hypomanic episodes are characterized by:

  • Elevated mood
  • Increased energy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Reduced need for sleep

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD is a mental health condition characterized by:

  • Emotional instability
  • Unstable self-image
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Difficulties in relationships 

Treatment often involves therapy to enhance emotion regulation and interpersonal skills. Medications are also often used to address specific symptoms or co-occurring conditions.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

PDD was previously known as dysthymia. It involves a chronic and persistent depressed mood for at least two years. 

PDD is accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. The symptoms include:

  • Recurrent periods of hypomanic symptoms
  • Alternating periods of depressive symptoms

The symptoms are less severe than those seen in full-blown manic or depressive episodes.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a subtype of depression. It often occurs during specific seasons, like in the winter months. Symptoms include:

  • Low mood
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sleep
  • Weight gain
  • Cravings for carbohydrates

Important Note About Mood Disorders

These disorders can look like disruptive mood dysregulation disorder in children. But, each person’s experience with a mood disorder can vary. Proper diagnosis should get based on a comprehensive evaluation of symptoms and history.

The Role of Genetics in DMDD

The development of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder may be determined by a combination of:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors

Below are some ways genetics and environment play a role in the development of DMDD.

Genetic Factors

Studies suggest that genetic factors play a role in the development of DMDD. But, specific genes or genetic markers associated with the disorder have not yet been identified. 

Research indicates that there may be a heritable component to DMDD. This means that people with a family history of mood disorders or related conditions may be at higher risk of developing the disorder.4

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors also contribute to the development of DMDD. Adverse experiences or stressors in childhood can increase the likelihood of developing disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. 

These experiences may include:5

  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Chaotic family environments

Exposure to chronic stress or inconsistent parenting styles may also play a role in the development of DMDD symptoms.

Interplay of Genetics and Environment

The interplay between genetics and environment is complex. The development of DMDD might be influenced by multiple factors beyond genetics and environment alone. 

Other factors, such as neurobiological and psychological factors, may also contribute to the development of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Further research is needed to better understand the specific genetic and environmental factors involved in the development of DMDD and their interactions. 

Therapeutic Approaches for Managing Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a fairly new diagnosis. The research on specific therapeutic approaches for managing DMDD is still evolving. 

But, there are several therapeutic interventions that are beneficial in helping people with DMDD manage their symptoms.

Below are some of the therapeutic approaches.6


Various forms of psychotherapy can be effective in managing DMDD symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used. 

It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and developing healthier coping strategies. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) emphasizes emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

Parent Training and Family Therapy

Involving parents or caregivers in the treatment process is essential for children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. 

Parent training programs can provide education and strategies to parents to help them manage their child’s behaviors. These strategies help improve communication and relationship dynamics. 

Family therapy can also be helpful in addressing family interactions and promoting healthier patterns of communication and problem-solving.


There are no specific medications approved specifically for DMDD. But, certain medications may get prescribed to manage specific symptoms. 

These may include:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Atypical antipsychotics
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Medication should be considered on a case-by-case basis. They should also get prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional.

Collaboration with Schools and Educators

Collaborating with schools and educators is an important approach. This helps to create supportive environments and tailored interventions that are crucial for children with DMDD. 

Strategies that support academic success can include:

  • Behavior management plans
  • Social skills training

Effectiveness of Therapeutic Approaches

The effectiveness of therapeutic approaches may vary. A combination of different interventions may also be necessary. The treatment plan for DMDD should take into account the individual’s needs and circumstances.

How Can Substance Use Impact Symptoms of DMDD?

Substances can have a significant impact on the symptoms of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Below are some ways in which substances can affect the symptoms of DMDD.

Worsen Dysregulation

Substance use can worsen mood dysregulation symptoms in people with DMDD. Drugs and alcohol can impair emotional regulation and increase:s.

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Impulsivity

This can lead to more frequent and intense temper outbursts.

Impair Cognitive Functioning

Substance use can impair:

  • Cognitive functioning
  • Decision-making abilities
  • Impulse control

This can make it more challenging for people with DMDD to regulate their emotions and behaviors.

Interfere with Medication Effectiveness

If medications get prescribed to manage DMDD symptoms, substance use can interfere with their effectiveness. Certain substances may interact in a negative way with medications. This could reduce the efficacy or increase the risk of side effects.

Development of Other Mental Health Conditions

Substance use can contribute to the development or worsening of other mental health conditions. These extra mental health issues can further complicate symptom management.

Cycle of Escalating Symptoms

Substance use can lead to a cycle of escalating symptoms. People with DMDD may turn to substances as a way to cope with their emotional distress. 

But, substances can worsen mood dysregulation. They can create a cycle where substance use and emotional dysregulation reinforce each other.

Important Note About Substance Use

It’s important to note that substance use can have negative consequences on mental health and well-being. This is true when combined with a pre-existing condition like DMDD. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and DMDD, it’s essential to seek professional help from a qualified healthcare provider or addiction specialist. 

They can provide:

  • Appropriate assessment
  • Support
  • Guidance for managing both the substance use and the symptoms of DMDD

Co-Occurrence Between Mood Disorders and Addiction

There is a significant co-occurrence between mood disorders and addiction. It is not uncommon for people with mood disorders to also experience substance use disorders.7

Here are some key points about the relationship between mood disorders and addiction:

Increased Risk

People with mood disorders have an increased risk of developing substance use disorders. This is compared to the general population. 

The presence of a mood disorder can make people more vulnerable to turning to substances. They often use substances to cope with emotional distress or self-medicate.


Some people with mood disorders may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. They may use substances to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety

But, substance use worsens the underlying mood disorder. This can lead to a vicious cycle of dependency and worsening mental health symptoms.

Shared Underlying Vulnerabilities

Mood disorders and addiction share common underlying vulnerabilities, including:

  • Genetic
  • Biological
  • Environmental factors 

These vulnerabilities can contribute to the co-occurrence of both conditions.

Bi-Directional Relationship

The relationship between mood disorders and addiction is often bidirectional. Mood disorders can increase the risk of developing an addiction. At the same time, substance abuse can worsen mood disorder symptoms or trigger episodes.

Similar Neurochemical Pathways

Mood disorders and addiction can involve dysregulation of similar neurochemical pathways in the brain, such as those involving neurotransmitters. This overlap may contribute to the co-occurrence of both conditions.

Treatment Implications

When both a mood disorder and substance use disorder coexist, it is crucial to address both conditions in treatment. Integrated treatment approaches that target both disorders can be effective. 

These approaches often involve a combination of:

  • Therapy
  • Medication management
  • Support groups
  • Lifestyle changes

For people experiencing both a mood disorder and addiction, Choice House can help you take back your life and achieve long-term recovery.

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

How Choice House Can Help You With DMDD

Choice House offers a comprehensive and specialized approach to support people struggling with mood disorders and addiction. 

Our dedicated team understands the complex connection between these conditions. We provide a holistic, nature-focused approach that addresses the whole person. 

Our Treatment Approach

Through evidence-based therapies, personalized treatment plans, and a supportive community environment, Choice House aims to empower you to overcome your challenges and achieve lasting recovery. 

By combining expertise in mood disorder management, addiction treatment, and holistic care, Choice House provides a unique opportunity for you to:

  • Find healing
  • Develop healthy coping strategies
  • Reclaim your life

Contact Choice House Today

With a focus on long-term recovery and a commitment to individualized care, Choice House, a comprehensive treatment facility for young men in Boulder, Colorado is a valuable resource for those seeking a comprehensive approach. 

 You don’t have to struggle with mood disorders alone. Find out how we can help you today by contacting us at 303.578.4978 or

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Don’t let addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions keep you from leading the happy, healthy, and empowered life you deserve. Contact Choice House today and embrace recovery.

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