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“Outer-Directed Irritability”: A Distinct Mood Syndrome in Explosive Youth With a Disruptive Behavior Disorder?

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64(6):698-701

Objective: To examine whether "outer-directed irritability," a mood construct from the adult literature, characterizes a subgroup of disruptive behavior disordered children and adolescents previously shown to improve on divalproex, a mood stabilizer.

Method: A sample (N = 20) of disruptive youth (aged 10-18 years) entering a divalproex treatment study of temper and irritable mood swings was compared to normal controls (N = 18) on measures of aggression/irritability directed against others (externalizing symptoms) and on aggression/irritability against self, anxiety, and depression (internalizing symptoms). All patients met DSM-IV criteria for a disruptive behavior disorder (oppositional defiant disorder of conduct disorder) in addition to research criteria.

Results: "Outer-directed irritability" most clearly distinguished patients from controls (effect size 4.1) and did not correlate with other mood measures. Patients and controls showed no to minimal differences on internalizing symptoms.

Conclusion: Disruptive behavior disordered children and adolescents characterized by outer-directed irritability exist, can be identified, and should be further investigated, especially since they are potentially treatable.