Impulse Control Disorder and Addiction

Impulse Control Disorder and Addiction | Just Believe Recovery
In This Article

Impulse Control Disorder and Addiction – Impulse control disorders are a class of psychological conditions hallmarked by impulsivity, including failure to resist temptations and impulses or the inability not to express a thought. They are characterized by four primary features, which include the following:

  • Continuing to repeat problematic behaviors despite incurring adverse consequences
  • The increasing loss of control over engaging in problematic behaviors
  • Progressing tension or urges to perform problematic behaviors before acting on them
  • Sense of pleasure or relief or pleasure during the engagement of problematic behaviors

Men are believed to be a bit more prone to impulse disorders than women. These disorders commonly co-occur with other mental illnesses or with issues related to substance abuse. Impulse control disorders are routinely overlooked or misdiagnosed, meaning that those who experience these disorders may be unlikely to get the help they need.

Understanding Impulse Control Disorder

Impulse control disorders are often diagnosed in the late teenage years or early adulthood. Different forms of impulse control disorders include the following:

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)

Intermittent Explosive Disorder is hallmarked by chronic temper tantrums or explosive events that are excessive and out of proportion to the circumstances in question. Violence, rage, aggression, verbal threats or outbursts, and physical harm to others or things often accompany these incidents. Fortunately, these tirades typically only last for about 30 minutes, but they do tend to come on suddenly, with little or no warning.

Agitation, irritability, and impulsivity are also common symptoms of IED. An individual who is experiencing an IED episode will likely experience racing thoughts, tingling in the extremities, chest pain or pressure, heart palpitations, and tremors. They may also be fatigued yet relieved immediately following their actions and possibly encounter feelings of guilt or regret about his or her behavior later.

The most intense outbursts may occur months apart, with milder episodes in between. In any case, IED can result in legal and financial issues, interfere with an individual’s relationships, cause significant distress, and also lead to problems related to work or school.


Impulse Control Disorder and Addiction | Just Believe Recovery

Kleptomania is characterized by the impulsive theft of items that are not needed. People may steal items and hoard them, give them away to others, or even later return them to the store or location from which they were obtained. The condition is not about attaining the things stolen, and instead, about the compulsion to steal, the excitement that ensues, and lack of self-control over this obsession.

Some experts believe that nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of those who shoplift suffer from some level of kleptomania. People who experience this condition may feel intense guilt or shame after the relief that comes from stealing has subsided. Unsurprisingly, legal issues are common for individuals who have kleptomania.


A person who repeatedly and deliberately sets fires likely suffers from pyromania, which is hallmarked by a preoccupation with fire and fire-setting equipment, along with a strong urge to start fires, and feelings of relief and reward while doing so. People with pyromania do not usually start fires for any reason other than their obsessive need to do so to relieve their burgeoning tension. Fortunately, pyromania is a relatively rare condition and believed to affect only about 1% of the population at some point in their life.

Causes of Impulse Control Disorders

Experts believe that a combination of biological, psychological, emotional, environmental, and cultural factors can play a key role in the development of impulse control disorders.

Two regions of the brain, the frontal lobe, which is involved with willpower and decision-making abilities, and the limbic system, which is responsible for memory functions and emotion, are affected in those who have an impulse disorder. Moreover, hormones linked to aggression, such as testosterone, may be elevated in a person who suffers from one of these conditions.

Also, chronic stress, childhood trauma or neglect, and other environmental factors may contribute to the development of impulse control disorder. Some medical disorders, such as brain trauma or an imbalance in brain chemistry related to an underlying mental health disorder, may also increase the likelihood that an individual will experience an impulse disorder.

Dangers of Impulse Control and Substance Use Disorders

When a person abuses drugs or alcohol, the brain’s natural chemistry and circuitry are temporarily interrupted and altered. If this action is performed repeatedly, substance dependence can develop, which may then progress into the inability to control drug or alcohol use and addiction.

Impulse control disorders and substance abuse have many aspects in common. These disorders are characterized by difficulties with self-control over destructive behaviors despite the incurrence of adverse consequences, and similar brain regions may be affected in both types of conditions.

Substance abuse may also serve as a form of self-medication for people who have an impulse control disorder. In turn, substance abuse can instigate an impulse control disorder or exacerbate one that already exists.

Impulse Control Disorder and Addiction | Just Believe Recovery

Abusing psychoactive substances before the brain is fully developed, such as in adolescence, may adversely impact regions of the brain related to the formation of willpower, decision-making, memory, pleasure, and mood regulation. These effects can increase the likelihood of developing substance abuse issues or mental health issues, such as impulse control disorder, later in life.

Regardless of which problem develops first, the combination of impulse control disorder and substance abuse can lead to increased risk factors and side effects related to one or both conditions. For example, abuse of substances, such as meth, with an impulse control disorder can dramatically increase and intensify incidents of aggression, hostility, and violence, as well as other risky behaviors.

Likewise, the loss of self-control exhibited by an individual suffering from an impulse control disorder may make him or her more likely to use substances and suffer the consequences of addiction. In fact, an estimated 20-50% of those with an impulse control disorder also have issues with substance abuse, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Seeking Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

Those who suffer from impulse control and substance use disorder may not be willing to admit they need professional help. However, getting these individuals to seek treatment may be accomplished through an intervention staged by the person’s family and friends.

Impulse control disorders are often hallmarked by episodes of extreme aggression, violence, and rage. For this reason, it is often helpful to stage an intervention under the direction of a trained professional who is experienced at planning and facilitating these types of structured meetings.

In the case of co-occurring disorders, a primary care provider, mental health professionals, and addiction specialists may collaborate to develop an integrated treatment plan. These plans typically include a wide variety of therapeutic services, such as psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, peer support, aftercare planning, and more.

Just Believe Recovery is a specialized addiction treatment center that offers programs in both partial-hospitalization and inpatient formats. We use a comprehensive and intensive approach to both substance abuse and mental health conditions. We are committed to ensuring that each person we treat receives the tools and support they need to experience a full recovery so they can go on to lead healthier, happier, and more satisfying lives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and mental illness, such as impulse control disorder, please contact us today! We help people break the chains of addiction for life!

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