Aggression Treatment Center & Hospital in Utah

Aggression is defined as a disposition or behavior that is forceful, hostile, or attacking. These behaviors may occur with or without provocation or as a retaliation as a means of revenge. Additionally, aggression is considered as an intention to cause harm to or intimidate another individual or increase one’s social dominance within a group. Aggression can appear in a number of different forms, such as verbal aggression, which occurs when an individual screams at others, or physical aggression, which occurs when someone physically attacks or harms others. It is also important to note the difference between aggression and assertiveness, as these words are often used interchangeably, however they refer to separate, distinct behaviors. Similarly, aggression is not the same thing as conflict, which is a state in which two or more people have opposing goals or interests. Conflicts can usually be resolved through negotiations, taking turns, or persuasion. While aggression is one form of conflict management, not all conflicts involve aggression.

There are a number of direct aggressive behaviors that people can display and may include the following:

  • Hitting
  • Pinching
  • Hair-pulling
  • Biting
  • Spiting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing

Aggression can also take a more indirect approach or may be combined with physical aggression. Indirect aggression may include:

  • Gossiping
  • Excluding others
  • Name-calling
  • Willful destruction of objects or items
  • Bullying
  • Passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Spreading rumors
  • Ignoring
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What Causes Aggression?

The exact reason aggressive behaviors occur in certain people has been closely debated for centuries. One theory of the development of this type of behavior is called the frustration-aggression theory, which suggests that when people feel frustration and are unable to achieve their goals they become angry and hostile, causing them to exhibit aggressive behaviors toward others. Another theory, the social-learning theory for aggression, is probably the most common and accepted theory of the cause for aggression. This theory states that people learn to behave aggressively through environmental exposures and use aggression as a way to accomplish their goals. Most people believe that the way in which you specifically express your frustration will depend upon the ways in which you have learned to behave through examples in your life.

Years of research have been spent trying to explain the reason that one person behaves aggressively while another person does. It’s been concluded that there are a number of subcortical structures and circuits that play a role in controlling and regulating aggressive behaviors. The exact roles of these pathways appear to vary based upon the precipitating aggression trigger. Researchers in the field believe that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is key to regulating aggression and other types of emotional responses. Lowered activity in the medial and orbitofrontal areas of the prefrontal cortex has been linked to antisocial behaviors and aggression. Additionally, a deficiency of the neurotransmitter serotonin has been linked to aggression and impulsive behaviors.

What Causes Aggression in Children and Teenagers?

Childhood aggression may be the result of a variety of factors such as life circumstances, mental health disorders, or medical conditions all working together. Before you can manage aggression in a child, you first need to be able to recognize the possible causes for that aggression. Some of the more common diagnoses that involve aggression in childhood include:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD often have a difficult time executing good judgment and controlling their impulses. All of these behaviors may lead children to behave in an aggressive manner, though it is not malicious or cruel. Children with ADHD may exhibit aggression because they are not able to clearly see the consequences of their actions.

Autism: Those who are diagnosed with autism are unable to properly process their emotions and express them in an acceptable manner. Children with autism may become frustrated and angry when they are unable to appropriately handle their emotions, which can cause them to engage in aggressive behaviors.

Bipolar disorder: Children with bipolar disorder who are in the manic state can lose control of their emotions, behave impulsively, and end up behaving in an aggressive manner toward others. During a depressive phase, aggression is less noted, although irritability is common and can lead to lashing out at others.

Brain damage: Children who have suffered brain damage as a result of birth trauma, experiencing a trauma during childhood, or are struggling with a brain tumor often have changes in behavior and marked aggressiveness.

Conduct disorder: One of the main components of conduct disorder is aggression. While children with conduct disorder are able to think through their actions, they may just not care if their actions are aggressive and mean.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD): This disorder is characterized by a pattern of defiant, openly hostile, and angry behaviors towards parents and people in authority. A child or teen with ODD may act aggressively toward any adult, including parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia in children produces distressing internal provocations, such as voices telling them to act in a certain way. During an episode of paranoia or psychosis, a child with schizophrenia may lash out aggressively at others.

Treatment of Aggression in Children and Teenagers

A child who is experiencing aggressive behavior problems should seek treatment from a qualified pediatric psychiatrist who has experience working with aggressive children. Through a careful set of evaluations and examinations (including a medical evaluation to rule out any medical causes for the aggression), a pediatric specialist will work to diagnose a child who has a suspected mental disorder that’s causing aggressive behaviors.

Treatment plan: Once a proper diagnosis is obtained, a pediatric specialist will work with a child and their family members to create a care plan that will focus on treating the underlying cause of these aggressive behaviors.

Medication management: Depending upon the type of disorder your child is diagnosed with, medication may be used to help control some of their symptoms. The type of medication will vary depending upon the diagnosis. If medication is not needed to manage the underlying disorder, it may be used as a way to temporarily control aggressive behaviors for certain children until they can learn to act in more appropriate ways.

Behavioral counseling: If a child is old enough to understand a system of rewards and consequences, a therapist will work with your child to create a behavior contract which specifies the outcomes for various behaviors. A child will receive some type of reward for positive behavior choices, and a consequence for negative, aggressive behaviors. Behavioral counseling will also address social skills, environmental triggers, and how to manage the aggressive behaviors.

Group therapy: An outpatient group therapy program that allows children with aggressive behavior to interact with peers going through similar struggles can be a great way for them to practice their social skills and manage their aggression. Groups will also focus upon aggression-related topics as needed.

Family therapy can be a very important part of the treatment process for children with aggressive behaviors. Family sessions will allow all family members to get on the same page in regards to treatment and ask questions of trained professionals in order to obtain more information about treatment, causes, and recovery.

What Causes Aggression in Adults?

Anger is a normal human reaction to threats that allows people to fight when they are threatened. However, when anger gets out of hand it can cause much trouble. Aggressive behavior in adults may be the result of many negative life events and experiences coming together or as a feature of a mental disorder. The most common disorders that have aggression as a symptom include:

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): This personality disorder is characterized by a long-term pattern of a violation and disregard for the rights of others. This may be the result of decreased conscience or moral values, or a history of criminality, incarceration, or legal problems, as well as impulsive and overly aggressive acts.

Bipolar disorder: During the manic or depressive cycle of bipolar disorder, some individuals become irritable and may end up acting in an aggressive manner, lashing out at those around them physically, verbally, or both.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD): People who have BPD are more likely to experience severe emotional instability, especially during a time when they feel a threat of abandonment, which can lead to aggressive acts.

Histrionic personality disorder (HPD): Individuals who have HPD exhibit many attention-seeking behaviors and emotional instability. When a person with this disorder isn’t getting the attention they want, they may lash out aggressively to gain the needed attention.

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED): People who struggle with IED have a pattern of impulsive, violent, angry, and aggressive behaviors that are greatly out of proportion to the situations. People with IED may attack other people who they see as a threat or may destroy others possessions during a bout of aggressive behaviors.

Schizoaffective disorder: This disorder combines the symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, including hallucinations and delusions. When a person with schizoaffective disorder has a psychotic break, he or she may act out aggressively in response to internal stimuli and faulty perceptions.

Schizophrenia: Most individuals with schizophrenia are not violent, however, sometimes these individuals experience breaks in reality. During this time, the hallucinations and delusions they experience may cause them to behave in an aggressive manner out of fear or in response to internal stimuli.

Substance abuse: Those who abuse certain drugs or alcohol are at an increased risk for developing addiction. Many psychoactive drugs cause aggression and during withdrawal states, aggression is common.

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Treatment for Aggression in Adults

Any adult with episodes of aggression significant enough to interfere with their daily lives should seek the treatment of a qualified therapist for a complete diagnosis and care plan. A treatment plan for aggression in adults will be aimed at treating any co-occurring mental health disorders, managing any medical disorders, and reducing the aggressive symptoms. Treatment for aggression in adults will help promote interpersonal relationships, increase satisfaction at home and at work, and positively increase self-image and self-esteem. Treatment options may include:

Medication: While there is no specific aggression medication, medication may be used to treat and manage physical and mental disorders that may be causing these behaviors. This can lead to a dramatic decrease in symptoms.

Individual therapy: Allows adults who struggle with aggression to discuss ways in which the behavior impacts their daily lives. Individual therapy will help identify triggers for depression, discuss ways they can diffuse a situation without aggression, and develop the communication skills needed to cope with others.

Group therapy: Working with others who are similarly struggling with aggression and similar mental or physical problems can be a great relief for those who have aggressive tendencies. Through group, you will learn anger management skills, coping mechanisms, relaxation exercises, and guided imagery to help you learn new ways of expressing your feelings.

Family therapy can help adults struggling with aggression mend broken bonds with loved ones that may have occurred as a result of their aggressive behavior. Family sessions can also help loved ones discuss the ways in which aggression has impacted their lives.

What Causes Aggression in Older Adults?

Older adults face many challenges that are not generally experienced by younger people that can lead them to develop aggressive and violent behavior. The most common reasons for aggression include those listed for aggression in adults and may also involve:

Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for dementia among older adults. This disease destroys areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation. Many people in the later stages of the disease begin have personality changes, which can cause them to become violent and aggressive.

Dementia: Dementia is a group of syndromes that lead to marked changes in personality, behavior, and brain function. Many older adults who have dementia may experience drastic changes in personality and behavior, causing them to lash out at loved ones or caregivers in a violent, aggressive manner.

Psychosis: Psychosis is a general term that refers to an altered mental status and a break from reality. Senior adults, who are more prone to psychosis, may react to internal stimuli and lash out due to fear or paranoia.

Stroke: When a blood clot forms and lodges in one of the blood vessels of the brain, that part of the brain is cut off from oxygen and may die. Depending upon the area of the brain that becomes hypoxic, a person can develop aggressive tendencies.

Treatment of Aggression in Older Adults

Treatment of aggression in older adults is complicated by additional medical conditions. A comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to aggression treatment in older adults is necessary to ensure that all needs are being met and all conditions are being treated. Treatment includes:

Medication management: Many of the symptoms of aggression in older adults can be managed through medication that will treat any underlying medical concerns and any co-occurring conditions.

Individual therapy: Individual therapy provides older adults the time to speak with a therapist one-on-one to discuss anger management, coping skills, and ways to reduce aggressive behaviors.

Group therapy can be very helpful for older adults as it allows the opportunity to bond with others, time for socialization, and may offer insight into various topics such as anger management, relaxation techniques, and ways to express emotions in a healthier manner.

Family therapy is very important for older adults and their loved ones. Long term placement options may need to be discussed as aggression and violence may escalate over time and cause significant problems in daily functioning.

Getting Help For a Aggressive Tendencies From Us

Our treatment center is in Salt Lake City (Midvale) and serves residents from all over Central and Northern Utah. Call one of our admissions counselors today for a free, confidential screening to see how Highland Ridge can help you regain a happy, healthy life.

get confidential help now: (801) 845-9544 Email Us