Impulse Control DisorderWe all have issues with impulses at times. A person may swear to only have one slice of cake or not buy those new shoes they cannot afford. That’s a normal part of life. When it comes to an impulse control disorder, there is way more to it than simple not keeping a promise you made to yourself. Instead, this is a mental health disorder that is often complex and has certain criteria that makes it a disorder.

Here is a guide to impulse control disorder. What it is, how it happens, who gets it, and how it is treated.

What is Impulse Control Disorder?

An impulse control disorder is quite different from being someone who simply does something impulsive from time to time.

According to Very Well Mind:

A person with an impulse control disorder is often unable to resist the sudden, forceful urge to do something that may violate the rights of others or bring about conflict with societal norms. These impulsive behaviors may occur repeatedly, quickly and without consideration of the consequences of that behavior. Pyromania (intentionally starting fires) and kleptomania (the urge to steal) are well-known examples, but there are others.

There are five stand alone types of impulse control disorders. These include the following, although they are not limited the disorder since they are also known as other types of mental health disorders.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

This is when a person cannot control their rage. This is even to the point that the person with this disorder may be prone to violence. There are other disorders that are similar to intermittent explosive disorder yet in this case, the outbursts are excessive. For instance, there is an event that triggers the person’s anger yet their response is more than what a person without the disorder experiences. An example is that a person is cut off in traffic. Instead of moving on and letting it go, they may fly into a rage and chase down the other driver.


Most people have heard of kleptomania. It is when a person has a compulsion to steal. This is not a case where a person may need something like clothing, food, or things for their children. Instead, it can be anyone from poor to rich. It is usually items that the person does not need. For example, a wealthy person taking a trinket from a secondhand store or someone taking a child’s gift when they have no children to give it to. It is things that are not needed yet the impulse to take them is there.


This is also categorized as an obsessive compulsive disorder. It is when a person compulsively pulls out their hair. This can be hair anywhere on their body, not just from their scalp. People who suffer from the effects of trichtotillomania sometimes pull out eyelashes, eyebrows, and even pubic hair. Even if it causes pain to the person, they have the overwhelming urge to do it.


Another common impulse control disorder is pyromania. As you probably recognize, it is the desire to start fires. The person who does this may feel that they are so anxious or so emotionally blocked that the only relief available is to start a fire. These feelings are the trigger for this type of disorder yet not everyone experiences the outcome the same. Some feel pleasure after starting a fire while others may not.

Pathological Gambling

Most people have heard of the compulsive gambler. What was thought of in the past as just a bad trait or someone who had no control, is now categorized as a process addiction. It is not as simple as someone who just cannot control their urges. Instead, the person with this problem finds that only gambling gives them relief from an intrusive and overwhelming urge to do so. This disorder has another name it goes by – compulsive gambling.

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Why Does Impulse Control Disorder Happen?

There are risk factors that contribute the ICD. These range from a variety of beginnings. It can be a traumatic past. A person who has chronic substance abuse may develop an impulse control disorder. And it may be due to genetics where it runs in the family.

There is no single answer as to why someone may get ICD. Instead, research turns to the things mentioned above as well as our own brain structure.

Scientists do suspect that certain brain structures-including the limbic system, linked to emotions and memory functions, and the frontal lobe, the part of the brain’s cortex linked to planning functions and controlling impulses-affect the disorder.

What Are the Statistics and Symptoms?

Impulse control disorder happens in both children and adults. In fact, when it comes to kleptomania, according to Modern Medicine Network:

Although kleptomania typically has its onset in late adolescence or early adulthood, the disorder has been reported in children as young as 4 years and in adults as old as 77 years.

There are certain symptoms or red flags when it comes to impulse control disorder. While these signs are not definitive, they do often correlate to ICD. These include:

  • Behavioral Symptoms: Certain behaviors may be indicative of impulse control disorder. These include things like stealing, lying, promiscuous behavior, starting fires, risky behavior, and more.
  • Social and Emotional Symptoms. In this case, some behaviors include being socially withdrawn, detached, having feelings of guilt, anxiety, or a major shift in mood or thoughts.
  • Cognitive Symptoms. Some of the symptoms in this area include agitation, irritability, obsessive behavior, flying off the handle, etc.

There are four qualities of impulse control disorder:

  1. Deriving pleasure or relief from behavior that is problematic. Such as enjoying starting a fire or getting relief from stealing.
  2. Continuing with negative behavior even if the consequences are negative as well.
  3. A craving that cannot be sated unless the act is committed. This typically increases in intensity up until it happens. The person may also feel anxious and tense.
  4. A lack of control over the negative behaviors such as not being to stop pulling out hair or setting fires.

Some people with ICD find that it affects their lives detrimentally. Those who gamble impulsively may find that their finances, family, and work suffers. A person who is a kleptomaniac may face being arrested, or worse. Someone who excessively pulls out their hair can experience a lack of self-esteem with it affecting their appearance.

There are a number of scenarios that present themselves with impulse control disorder, and those are just a couple of examples.

Impulse Control Disorder and Substance Abuse

A person who has impulse control disorder may also have a substance abuse problem. This is what is known as a co-occurring disorder.

This is when there are two disorders that need treatment. A person may try to medicate their urges with drugs or alcohol and this exasperates the problem. In some cases, the roles are reversed and the substance abuse comes first. It doesn’t matter though which triggered the other or if that happened at all. The important thing is to seek treatment so that you get help for ICD or impulse control disorder as part of a co-occurring disorder.

What is the Treatment for Impulse Control Disorder?

There is no one answer to the treatment for impulse control disorder but it is important to know that it can be treated.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one treatment avenue that is used for ICD. This is helpful in changing impulsive thoughts into more productive ones. In fact, some studies have shown that CBT may work on the regions of the brain that may be impacted by an impulse control disorder and/or addiction, teaching individuals suffering from these disorders new coping mechanisms and techniques for controlling impulses and managing potential triggers as they occur. This is referenced by Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Holistic treatments that teach mindfulness are helpful too. With things like medication, yoga, and other holistic techniques, these may teach the person better ways to control their emotions or to improve their willpower.

Medications help in some areas of ICD. There is no single medication that is approved or proven to help, yet some impulse control disorders find helpful treatment in medications that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These are antidepressants such as Zoloft or Prozac. Another medication that has shown promise is the drug naltrexone, typically used as an antidepressant.

We Tailor Your Treatment

At Transformations, we know that there is no quick fix or standardized treatment method for impulse control disorder. One person may do better with a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication while another may show better progress with CBT and a holistic approach.

If you are suffering from impulses you cannot control and they are having a negative effect on your life, we can help.Contact us so we are able to get started on your path to recovery.

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