All of us have trouble controlling our impulses once in a while. However, people with impulse control issues find it difficult to stop themselves from engaging in behaviors like stealing, gambling, or aggressive behavior toward others. In such people, it is often noticed that there is a lack of impulse control. A lack of impulse control is also associated with various neurological disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It may also be associated with a group of conditions known as impulse control disorders (ICDs). Impulse control disorders can have a profoundly adverse effect on your life. However, there are strategies and treatments that can help you manage your impulses. Here’s how you can cope with impulse control issues in children and adults.
What is Impulsive Behavior And What Are The Symptoms Of Impulse Control Issues?
Impulsive behavior refers to instances when you act quickly without paying any heed to the consequences.(1,2,3) Nothing other than that exact moment is going on in your mind. While we all engage in impulsive behavior sometimes or the other, especially in the younger years, but most people learn to control these impulses as we get older and mature. However, frequent impulsive behavior can be associated with certain types of mental health conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).(4,5) Impulsive behavior or a lack of impulse control may also be associated with a group of conditions known as impulse control disorders (ICDs).(6,7,8)
Impulse control issues differ from person to person, but a general theme that can be observed is that these impulses are usually considered to be extreme and are challenging to control. Most of the symptoms typically start during adolescence, but it is possible that signs of impulse control disorders do not show up well until adulthood.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of impulse control issues that can be observed across all age groups:
- Destroying property
- Showing explosive anger
- Stealing or kleptomania
- Prone to sudden outbursts, both verbal and physical
- Overeating or eating compulsively
- Harming other people or animals
- Pulling on one’s own head hair, lashes, and brows, a condition known as trichotillomania
There are certain symptoms that are more commonly observed in adults with impulse control issues. These might include behaviors like:
- Compulsive shopping
- Uncontrolled gambling
- Internet addiction that may show up as out-of-control usage
- Intentionally setting fires, a condition known as pyromania.
In children with impulse control issues, you are more likely to notice problems at school, both academically and socially. They are also likely to be at a higher risk of experiencing classroom outbursts, failing to complete their schoolwork, and picking fights with their classmates.
Can Impulse Control Issues Be Related To Other Conditions?
Even though the exact cause of impulse control disorders is unknown, it is believed that impulse control issues can be related to certain chemical changes that take place in the frontal lobe of the brain. These changes are known to involve dopamine.(9)
The frontal lobe of the brain is known for controlling your impulses, and if there are any changes in it, you are at a higher risk of developing impulse control issues.
Impulse control disorders can also be related to another group of what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes as disruptive, impulse control, and conduct disorders.(10,11)
Examples of such types of disorders include:
- Conduct disorder: People with conduct disorder show anger and aggression that can quickly become a danger to other people, property, and animals.(12)
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): More commonly diagnosed in children, but it can also be diagnosed in adults. A person with oppositional defiant disorder is likely to get easily angered, be defiant, and argumentative while also exhibiting other types of aggressive and vindictive behaviors.(13,14)
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Intermittent Explosive Disorder may cause a person to have angry and aggressive outbursts at work, home, and school.(15,16)
Impulse control issues are also observed alongside the following medical conditions:
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Parkinson’s disease and other similar movement disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Tourette Syndrome
- Substance abuse
Impulse control disorders have been more commonly observed in males. Some of the other risk factors of getting such disorders include:
- A history of abuse
- Parents with substance abuse issues
- Poor treatment or abuse from parents during childhood
Coping with Impulse Control Issues
It is critical to seek treatment to help manage impulse control issues, but there are other ways also to help you cope with these issues.
Here are some ways you can help your child cope:
If you are a parent whose child is having difficulty with impulse control, you should talk to your doctor about how to address your child’s challenges and the best way to help them. Your doctor may refer to you a psychotherapist who is trained to work well with children.
You can also help your child with impulse control issues by:
- Setting certain limits and strictly sticking to them.
- Modeling healthy behaviors for your child to follow and setting a good example.
- Making sure to praise them whenever they practice good behavior.
- Establishing a routine so that your child is aware of exactly what to expect at what time.
When it comes to adults, they are more likely to have difficulty controlling their behaviors, especially in the heat of the moment. Afterward, they are likely to feel ashamed and guilty. This type of behavior can eventually become a cycle of anger toward others.
It is essential to talk to a doctor or a mental health professional about the challenges you are facing with impulse control. Having someone to talk to can help you work through your behaviors and also reduce the risk of anger, irritability, and depression.(17)
Treatments for Impulse Control Issues
Therapy, of course, is the primary treatment for impulse control disorders and also for impulse control that is associated with other underlying conditions. Some examples of therapy may include:
- Play therapy for children
- Group therapy for adults
- Family therapy
- Couples therapy
Individual psychotherapy in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or other types of talk therapy.
In many cases, your doctor may also prescribe mood stabilizers or antidepressants to help balance out the chemicals in the brain. There are many options, and it might take some time and some trial and error to determine which medications and dosage work the best for you.
Treating any type of existing neurological or mental health conditions may also help in improving the symptoms of poor impulse control. For example, if you have Parkinson’s disease, the treatment may help you manage the symptoms of poor impulse control.(18)
When To Contact A Doctor?
It is essential that you contact your doctor at the earliest if you suspect that you or your child are exhibiting any signs of having issues with impulse control. Remember that the sooner you seek help, the better will be the outcome for you or your child.
In the case of children and adults, an immediate evaluation by a mental health professional can help manage any issues with work, school, or even the law that typically arise due to acting out on impulses. If you feel like you are unable to control your impulses, and they are starting to adversely affect your relationships and life, it is best to reach out for help and talk to someone. If your child is harming or acting aggressively towards people or animals, it is better to call your child’s doctor immediately.
To better understand and assess your or your child’s impulse control issues, your doctor will ask about the symptoms, their intensity, and frequency of the outbursts. They may also require you to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if there are any underlying mental conditions that may be responsible for the impulsive behavior.
If there is an existing neurological disorder, your doctor will begin treatment for the same. Let your doctor know if you start to experience new symptoms if there is a lack of improvement in impulsive behavior even after treatment of the neurological disorder. Your doctor might need to make certain adjustments to your current treatment plan.
Impulse control issues are actually more common than we may think. They can be complex and challenging to prevent and manage. Working with a doctor and getting a better understanding of why you are having issues with impulse control and the risk factors involved can help you find the correct treatment that will help you manage your condition.
Impulse control disorders tend to develop more during childhood, which is why you should not wait to talk to your child’s doctor.
While it is difficult to manage a lack of impulse control, but getting help early on can be beneficial and decrease the amount of negative impact this type of condition can have on your work, relationships, or school.
- MacInnis, D.J. and Patrick, V.M., 2006. Spotlight on affect: Affect and affective forecasting in impulse control. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 16(3), pp.224-231.
- Stein, D.J., Hollander, E. and Liebowitz, M.R., 1993. Neurobiology of impulsivity and the impulse control disorders. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 5, pp.9-9.
- Specker, S.M., Carlson, G.A., Christenson, G.A. and Marcotte, M., 1995. Impulse control disorders and attention deficit disorder in pathological gamblers. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 7(4), pp.175-179.
- Tseng, M.H., Henderson, A., Chow, S.M. and Yao, G., 2004. Relationship between motor proficiency, attention, impulse, and activity in children with ADHD. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 46(6), pp.381-388.
- Hayward, A., Tomlinson, A. and Neill, J.C., 2016. Low attentive and high impulsive rats: A translational animal model of ADHD and disorders of attention and impulse control. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 158, pp.41-51.
- Odlaug, B.L. and Grant, J.E., 2010. Impulse-control disorders in a college sample: results from the self-administered Minnesota Impulse Disorders Interview (MIDI). Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 12(2), pp.e1-e5.
- Grant, J.E. and Odlaug, B.L., 2010. Impulse control disorders.
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- Voon, V., Reynolds, B., Brezing, C., Gallea, C., Skaljic, M., Ekanayake, V., Fernandez, H., Potenza, M.N., Dolan, R.J. and Hallett, M., 2010. Impulsive choice and response in dopamine agonist-related impulse control behaviors. Psychopharmacology, 207(4), pp.645-659.
- Frick, P.J. and Matlasz, T.M., 2018. Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. In Developmental Pathways to Disruptive, Impulse-Control and Conduct Disorders (pp. 3-20). Academic Press.
- Mayo, N., DSM-5 Category: Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders.
- Robins, L.N., 1991. Conduct disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32(1), pp.193-212.
- Hamilton, S. and Armando, J., 2008. Oppositional defiant disorder. American family physician, 78(7), pp.861-866.
- Rey, J.M., 1993. Oppositional defiant disorder. The American journal of psychiatry.
- Olvera, R.L., 2002. Intermittent explosive disorder. CNS drugs, 16(8), pp.517-526.
- Coccaro, E.F., Posternak, M.A. and Zimmerman, M., 2005. Prevalence and features of intermittent explosive disorder in a clinical setting. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 66(10), pp.1221-1227.
- Grant, J.E., Donahue, C.B. and Odlaug, B.L., 2011. Treating impulse control disorders: A cognitive-behavioral therapy program, therapist guide. Oxford University Press.
- Leeman, R.F. and Potenza, M.N., 2011. Impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s disease: clinical characteristics and implications. Neuropsychiatry, 1(2), p.133.