Irritability in Youths: A Critical Integrative Review

Am J Psychiatry. 2024 Apr 1;181(4):275-290. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.20230256. Epub 2024 Feb 29.


Irritability, defined as proneness to anger that may impair an individual's functioning, is common in youths. There has been a recent upsurge in relevant research. The authors combine systematic and narrative review approaches to integrate the latest clinical and translational findings and provide suggestions for addressing research gaps. Clinicians and researchers should assess irritability routinely, and specific assessment tools are now available. Informant effects are prominent, are stable, and vary by age and gender. The prevalence of irritability is particularly high among individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and mood and anxiety disorders. Irritability is associated with impairment and suicidality risk independent of co-occurring diagnoses. Developmental trajectories of irritability (which may begin early in life) have been identified and are differentially associated with clinical outcomes. Youth irritability is associated with increased risk of anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and suicidality later in life. Irritability is moderately heritable, and genetic associations differ based on age and comorbid illnesses. Parent management training is effective for treating psychological problems related to irritability, but its efficacy in treating irritability should be tested rigorously, as should novel mechanism-informed interventions (e.g., those targeting exposure to frustration). Associations between irritability and suicidality and the impact of cultural context are important, underresearched topics. Analyses of large, diverse longitudinal samples that extend into adulthood are needed. Data from both animal and human research indicate that aberrant responses to frustration and threat are central to the pathophysiology of irritability, revealing important translational opportunities.

Keywords: Anger; Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Depressive Disorders; Development; Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder; Frustration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / genetics
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Mood / physiology
  • Mood Disorders / therapy