Table of Contents

Definition of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a mental health diagnosis that was introduced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). DMDD is primarily characterized by severe temper outbursts and chronic, severe irritability in children and adolescents. It is typically diagnosed in individuals under the age of 18.

Key features of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder include:

  • Severe temper outbursts: Children and adolescents with DMDD exhibit frequent temper outbursts that are developmentally inappropriate, occurring more frequently than seen in peers of a similar age. These outbursts can involve yelling, physical aggression, or destructive behavior.
  • Chronic irritability: A hallmark of DMDD is the presence of severe and persistent irritability, often manifesting as a consistently irritable or angry mood between temper outbursts. This irritability is pervasive and not limited to specific situations or settings.
  • Onset and duration: DMDD typically begins before the age of 10, and the diagnosis cannot be made for the first time after the age of 18. The symptoms must have been present for at least 12 months, with no period of three or more consecutive months without symptoms.
  • Impairment: The symptoms of DMDD should significantly interfere with the child’s or adolescent’s social, academic, or other important areas of functioning.

It’s important to note that DMDD is a relatively new diagnosis, and its introduction aimed to address concerns that some children who were previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder or oppositional defiant disorder might not fit neatly into those categories. DMDD helps to distinguish between these conditions and provide a more accurate framework for diagnosis and treatment in certain cases. If you suspect that a child or adolescent may be experiencing DMDD, it’s important to seek professional evaluation and guidance from a mental health clinician or psychiatrist, as early intervention can be crucial for proper management.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

History of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a relatively recent addition to the field of psychiatry and mental health. It was introduced as a new diagnostic category in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was published in 2013. The development and inclusion of DMDD in the DSM-5 was influenced by several factors and ongoing discussions in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. Here’s a brief history of DMDD:

Concerns about over-diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children:

Prior to the introduction of DMDD, there were concerns that some children were being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a young age, even though they did not fit the typical criteria for the condition. This raised questions about the accuracy of these diagnoses and the potential overuse of medications to treat these children.

Need for a distinct diagnosis:

The DSM-5 Task Force recognized the need for a distinct diagnostic category to capture the unique presentation of children and adolescents who exhibited severe and chronic irritability and temper outbursts without fitting the criteria for bipolar disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. The goal was to provide a more accurate and specific diagnosis for these individuals.

Development and introduction in DSM-5:

In response to these concerns and clinical observations, DMDD was developed as a new diagnosis. It was officially included in the DSM-5, which was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. This addition aimed to better characterize and diagnose children and adolescents who experienced severe mood dysregulation, irritability, and temper outbursts.

Criteria and guidelines:

The DSM-5 outlined specific criteria and guidelines for diagnosing DMDD, such as the age of onset, duration of symptoms, and impairment in functioning. It was intended to help clinicians differentiate DMDD from other mood disorders and disruptive behavior disorders, ensuring a more accurate and tailored approach to treatment and intervention.

Controversy and debate:

The introduction of DMDD was not without controversy, and it generated discussions among mental health professionals. Some critics expressed concerns about the potential for overdiagnosis and the stigmatization of children, while others saw it as a valuable addition to the diagnostic toolkit for understanding and treating severe mood dysregulation in young individuals.

Since its introduction, DMDD has become a recognized diagnosis in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry, and it has been used by clinicians to help identify and support children and adolescents who exhibit severe and chronic irritability and mood dysregulation. Its development reflects ongoing efforts within the field of psychiatry to refine diagnostic categories and provide more accurate and targeted mental health care for individuals of all ages.

DSM-5 criteria of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines specific criteria for the diagnosis of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). To be diagnosed with DMDD, a child or adolescent must meet the following criteria:

A. Severe temper outbursts: The individual must exhibit recurrent severe temper outbursts that are grossly out of proportion to the situation and their developmental level. These temper outbursts can involve verbal rages and/or physical aggression toward people or property. The temper outbursts must occur, on average, three or more times per week.

B. Chronic irritability: The individual must display a consistently irritable or angry mood that is observable by others for most of the day, nearly every day, and it must be present for at least 12 months. During this period, the child or adolescent should not be symptom-free for more than three consecutive months.

C. Age of onset: The onset of DMDD symptoms should be before the age of 10 years.

D. Impairment: The symptoms of DMDD must cause significant impairment in social, academic, or other important areas of functioning.

E. Exclusion criteria: DMDD should not be diagnosed if the symptoms are better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as bipolar disorder or pervasive developmental disorder.

It’s important to note that DMDD is primarily a diagnosis for children and adolescents, and it was created to address concerns about the overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder and the need for a distinct category for children who experience chronic irritability and temper outbursts. Accurate diagnosis and evaluation by a mental health professional are essential to determine if a child meets the criteria for DMDD and to rule out other potential causes for the symptoms.

Etiology of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

The exact etiology (causes) of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is not fully understood, and like many mental health disorders, it likely results from a complex interplay of various factors. While research is ongoing, several potential contributors to the development of DMDD have been proposed:

Biological Factors:

There is evidence to suggest that genetics may play a role in DMDD. Children with a family history of mood disorders may be more predisposed to the condition. Changes in brain structure and function, neurotransmitter imbalances, or alterations in the brain’s ability to regulate emotions could also be factors.

Environmental Factors:

Adverse childhood experiences, trauma, or chronic stress may contribute to the development of DMDD. Growing up in an environment with high levels of conflict, abuse, or neglect could exacerbate irritability and emotional dysregulation in some children.

Psychological Factors:

Individual temperament and personality traits may influence the likelihood of developing DMDD. Children with inherent difficulties in regulating emotions may be more vulnerable to the disorder.

Developmental Factors:

DMDD typically emerges in childhood and is often associated with developmental changes. Some children may struggle with developing emotional regulation skills, and the disorder may become more evident as they encounter the challenges of growing up.

Parenting and Family Dynamics:

The family environment can also be a contributing factor. High levels of stress within the family, inconsistent discipline, or lack of emotional support can exacerbate symptoms of DMDD in children.


DMDD often co-occurs with other mental health disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety disorders. The presence of these comorbid conditions can complicate the clinical picture and make it more challenging to treat DMDD effectively.

It’s important to note that the understanding of DMDD is still evolving, and ongoing research is aimed at unraveling the precise causes and mechanisms behind this condition. The diagnosis and management of DMDD typically involve a comprehensive assessment by mental health professionals, which may include clinical interviews, observation, and potentially neuroimaging or genetic testing. Treatment approaches often involve a combination of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or parent-child interaction therapy, and, in some cases, medication to address specific symptoms or comorbid conditions.

Theories related to Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of psychiatry and child and adolescent mental health. While there is ongoing research to better understand the condition, several theories and concepts have been proposed to explain and address DMDD. Here are some of the theories and related concepts:

Emotion Dysregulation Theory:

This theory suggests that DMDD is rooted in a fundamental difficulty with regulating emotions. Children with DMDD have a heightened sensitivity to emotional stimuli and struggle to modulate their emotional responses, leading to severe temper outbursts and chronic irritability. Emotion regulation strategies and interventions are often a key component of DMDD treatment.

Developmental Trajectory Theory:

DMDD is seen as a disorder that evolves over time. It is thought to be a developmental disorder that emerges in childhood due to a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors. Understanding the trajectory of DMDD may help in early identification and intervention.

Overlap with Other Disorders:

DMDD is closely related to other mood and behavioral disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some theorists propose that DMDD may be a way of capturing children who don’t fit neatly into these other categories, thus addressing concerns of overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder in children.

Neurobiological Factors:

Research has suggested that there may be neurobiological factors at play in DMDD. Alterations in brain structure, function, and neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin and dopamine, could contribute to emotional dysregulation and impulsivity seen in DMDD.

Psychosocial Stressors:

Some theories emphasize the role of psychosocial stressors in the development and exacerbation of DMDD symptoms. High levels of family conflict, trauma, or chronic stress may contribute to the severity of symptoms in children with DMDD.

Comorbidity and Shared Risk Factors:

There is a high degree of comorbidity between DMDD and other mental health disorders, particularly ADHD and anxiety disorders. Shared risk factors, such as genetic predisposition or environmental stressors, may help explain these comorbid relationships.

Treatment and Intervention Strategies:

Theories related to treatment and intervention emphasize the importance of addressing both the emotional dysregulation and the disruptive behaviors seen in DMDD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, and medication are some of the strategies proposed to address DMDD symptoms.

It’s important to note that the understanding of DMDD is still evolving, and research continues to shed light on its underlying causes and effective treatment approaches. The development of this diagnostic category in the DSM-5 aimed to provide a more accurate framework for identifying and addressing children and adolescents with severe mood dysregulation and temper outbursts. Clinicians and researchers are working to refine the understanding and management of DMDD to better help affected individuals and their families.

Risk factors related to Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a complex mental health condition that can be influenced by various risk factors. While the exact causes of DMDD are not fully understood, the following risk factors have been identified as potential contributors to the development of the disorder:


Family history can play a significant role in the risk of developing DMDD. Children with close relatives who have mood disorders, including depression or bipolar disorder, may be more genetically predisposed to the condition.

Neurobiological Factors:

Alterations in brain structure and function may be associated with DMDD. Changes in regions of the brain involved in emotional regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, could contribute to emotional dysregulation and temper outbursts.

Early Childhood Temperament:

Children with certain temperamental traits, such as high levels of negative emotionality and irritability from a young age, may be at greater risk of developing DMDD.

Psychosocial Stressors:

Exposure to psychosocial stressors during childhood, such as a history of trauma, neglect, or chronic family conflict, can increase the risk of developing DMDD. These stressors may contribute to emotional dysregulation and disruptive behaviors.

Parenting and Family Factors:

The family environment and parenting styles can play a significant role in the development of DMDD. Inconsistent discipline, a lack of emotional support, or the presence of high levels of family conflict can exacerbate symptoms in children.


There is a strong association between DMDD and other mental health disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. Children with comorbid conditions may be at higher risk of developing DMDD, and the presence of these conditions can complicate the clinical picture.


DMDD appears to be more commonly diagnosed in males, although it can affect both genders. The reasons for this gender difference are not entirely clear.

Sociodemographic Factors:

Certain sociodemographic factors, such as socioeconomic status and access to mental health care, may influence the risk of developing DMDD. Children from lower-income families may have limited access to resources and treatment options, potentially affecting the course of the disorder.

Developmental Factors:

The age of onset for DMDD is typically before 10 years of age, and the disorder may be related to developmental changes and challenges that children face as they grow and transition through different developmental stages.

It’s important to note that these risk factors interact in complex ways, and not every individual exposed to these risk factors will develop DMDD. Early intervention and support are crucial for children at risk, and a comprehensive evaluation by mental health professionals can help identify and address the disorder effectively. Additionally, the presence of risk factors should not lead to stigmatization, as DMDD is a treatable condition, and with appropriate intervention, many individuals can experience improvements in their symptoms and quality of life.

Treatment for Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

The treatment of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches, as well as consideration of potential pharmacological interventions in some cases. Treatment is aimed at helping children and adolescents with DMDD learn to manage their emotional dysregulation, temper outbursts, and associated impairments. Here are some of the key components of DMDD treatment:

Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy):

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is often used to help children and adolescents with DMDD recognize and modify negative thought patterns and develop more effective coping strategies. It can help them learn to identify and manage their emotional responses and improve their problem-solving skills.
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT): PCIT involves training parents in effective behavioral management techniques to help manage their child’s disruptive behaviors and improve parent-child relationships. It can be particularly beneficial when addressing DMDD in younger children.
  • Individual Psychotherapy: Some children may benefit from individual therapy with a trained mental health professional. This can provide a safe and supportive environment for them to express their feelings and learn additional coping skills.


In some cases, especially when DMDD symptoms are severe and associated with other conditions (e.g., comorbid ADHD or mood disorders), medication may be considered. Commonly prescribed medications include mood stabilizers or atypical antipsychotic medications. The choice of medication should be made in consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist who can carefully assess the potential benefits and risks.

Behavioral Interventions:

Behavior management techniques, such as reinforcement systems and behavior contracts, can be used to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors while reducing problematic behaviors.

Social Skills Training:

Social skills training can help children and adolescents with DMDD improve their interpersonal skills and interactions, which can contribute to a reduction in conflict and frustration.

Family Therapy:

Family therapy can be helpful in addressing the family dynamics and stressors that may contribute to or exacerbate DMDD symptoms. It can also improve communication and conflict resolution within the family.

School-Based Interventions:

Collaboration with the school system can be crucial for children with DMDD. Educational supports, such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan, can help create an environment that accommodates their needs and promotes academic success.

Emotion Regulation and Coping Skills Training:

Teaching children and adolescents strategies to identify and manage their emotions can be an important aspect of treatment. This can include relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, and problem-solving skills.

Community Support Services:

Depending on the individual’s needs, access to community-based support services, such as case management or support groups, can be beneficial for both the child and the family.

It’s important to remember that treatment for DMDD should be individualized to meet the specific needs of the child or adolescent and their family. A comprehensive assessment by a qualified mental health professional, typically a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, is essential to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention and a collaborative approach involving parents, teachers, and mental health providers can greatly improve the prognosis and quality of life for individuals with DMDD.

Therapies for Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Several types of therapies can be effective in treating Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) in children and adolescents. These therapies are often used to help individuals learn to manage their emotions, improve mood regulation, and develop healthier coping strategies. Some of the therapies commonly utilized for DMDD include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach for DMDD. It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. In the context of DMDD, CBT can help individuals recognize their emotional triggers and learn how to respond to them in more adaptive ways. CBT can also teach problem-solving skills, anger management, and emotional regulation techniques.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT):

PCIT is a family-focused therapy that trains parents in effective behavior management techniques. It can be particularly helpful when treating younger children with DMDD. PCIT helps parents learn strategies for managing disruptive behaviors and improving the parent-child relationship. It typically involves live coaching sessions with the therapist, allowing parents to practice techniques in real-time.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

DBT is an evidence-based therapy that combines cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness approaches. It can be beneficial for individuals with DMDD who struggle with intense emotions. DBT teaches emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness skills.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT):

IPT focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills. It may be used in cases where social difficulties contribute to DMDD symptoms. By addressing relationship issues and improving social interactions, IPT can help reduce emotional dysregulation and irritability.

Play Therapy:

Play therapy is a technique often used with younger children to help them express their emotions and develop emotional regulation skills through play. It can be an effective way to engage children in therapy and address their emotional needs.

Group Therapy:

Group therapy can provide a supportive and structured environment for children and adolescents to work on their emotional regulation and interpersonal skills. It can be particularly useful for those who benefit from peer interactions and shared experiences.

Family Therapy:

Family therapy is often recommended when family dynamics contribute to or exacerbate DMDD symptoms. It helps family members communicate, resolve conflicts, and understand each other better, which can lead to improved emotional regulation in the affected child or adolescent.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions:

Mindfulness practices, such as mindfulness meditation, can help individuals with DMDD become more aware of their emotions and learn to respond to them in a non-reactive manner. Mindfulness techniques are often integrated into other therapeutic approaches as well.

Emotion Regulation Skills Training:

Therapists may focus on teaching specific skills for recognizing and managing emotions. These skills can include identifying emotional triggers, using relaxation techniques, and implementing strategies to cope with intense feelings.

It’s important to note that the choice of therapy or combination of therapies should be based on the individual’s age, developmental level, and specific needs. Treatment plans are often tailored to the unique circumstances of the child or adolescent with DMDD. Additionally, therapy is typically most effective when it is part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may also include medication, educational support, and parental involvement. A qualified mental health professional, such as a child psychologist or psychiatrist, can help determine the most appropriate therapy and treatment approach for each individual with DMDD.

Preventions of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

Preventing Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a complex challenge, as the exact causes and risk factors for the disorder are not fully understood. However, there are several general strategies and approaches that can help reduce the risk of DMDD or mitigate its severity. It’s important to remember that while these measures may be helpful, there is no guaranteed way to prevent the development of DMDD in every individual. Here are some preventive strategies:

Early Intervention for Behavioral Issues:

Early identification and intervention for behavioral problems, emotional dysregulation, or irritability in children can be crucial. If a child exhibits persistent behavioral difficulties or mood-related challenges, seeking guidance from a mental health professional or child psychologist can help address issues before they escalate.

Parenting Skills and Support:

Parents play a crucial role in a child’s emotional development. Providing a stable, nurturing, and supportive home environment can have a positive impact on a child’s emotional well-being. Parents may benefit from parenting classes or support groups to learn effective strategies for managing and addressing behavioral and emotional issues in their children.

Stress Reduction:

Reducing stress within the family environment is important. Efforts to minimize family conflict, improve communication, and create a low-stress home environment can contribute to better emotional regulation in children.

Consistent Discipline:

Consistency in discipline and setting clear boundaries is essential. Establishing age-appropriate rules and consequences and enforcing them consistently can help children learn self-control and emotional regulation.

Teaching Coping Skills:

Parents and caregivers can teach children healthy coping skills to manage frustration, anger, and other challenging emotions. These skills can include relaxation techniques, problem-solving strategies, and effective communication.

Promoting Social Skills:

Encouraging positive social interactions and teaching children effective social skills can reduce frustration and irritability related to interpersonal challenges.

Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation:

Teaching children mindfulness practices and emotion regulation techniques can help them become more aware of their emotions and learn to respond to them in a healthier way.

Screen Time and Sleep:

Limiting excessive screen time and ensuring that children get adequate sleep can have a positive impact on their emotional well-being and behavior.

Access to Mental Health Services:

If a child exhibits persistent emotional and behavioral problems, it’s essential to seek professional evaluation and support. Access to mental health services can help identify and address issues early, reducing the risk of the disorder becoming more severe.

It’s important to emphasize that early intervention is key to addressing emotional and behavioral challenges in children and adolescents. If you have concerns about your child’s emotional regulation or behavior, consult with a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support. Early identification and appropriate treatment can make a significant difference in the long-term well-being of children and adolescents at risk for DMDD

author avatar