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Every now and then, we may unintentionally find ourselves acting on impulse. For example, we may blurt something out without thinking or buy something that isn’t in our budget. While some of us can willingly choose to act on impulse occasionally, those with impulse control issues cannot make that choice for themselves. Impulse control issues are a hallmark of substance use disorder (SUD), mental health disorders, and process addictions. By becoming familiar with the warning signs of impulse control issues, we can encourage ourselves and our loved ones to participate in treatment to establish lasting wellness in their lives. 

At CCM, we know how challenging it can be to navigate daily life when impulse control issues are clouding one’s judgment. Yet, we also have the professional support, knowledge, and guidance to help individuals with impulse control issues strengthen self-control and other related skills. We engage in collaborative care to help individuals and families connect with the treatment, intervention, and other resources they need to establish long-term healing from mental health disorders, substance abuse, process addictions, and more. Moreover, knowing the warning signs of impulse control issues is the first step toward recovery.

Understanding Impulse Control

In psychology, impulse control refers to the ability to control our behaviors, emotions, and desires. Generally, skills related to impulse control help us to fully think through an action before we take it. Impulse control is important because it ensures that we can resist or avoid partaking in behaviors that may cause harm to ourselves or others. Additionally, it also allows us to prioritize our behaviors in ways that align with our values. 

Impulse Control Issues: The Hallmark of Various Neuropsychiatric Disorders

On the other hand, impulse control issues are marked by inabilities or challenges in controlling and/or resisting the urge to act on impulse. Further, those who exhibit impulse control issues qualify for a diagnosis of an impulse control disorder (ICD), marked by “urges and behaviors that are excessive and/or harmful to oneself or others and cause significant impairment in social and occupational functioning, as well as legal and financial difficulties,” as stated by an article in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Moreover, as an article by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience explains, “Impulse control as an executive function, however, is neither cognitively nor neurobehaviorally a unitary function.” Moreover, the article also notes that ”Impulsivity is regarded as a clinical, diagnostic, and pathophysiological hallmark of several neuropsychiatric disorders” including:

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Trichotillomania (TTM)
  • Pathological gambling
  • Chronic substance abuse

To summarize, those with impulse control issues are not willingly choosing to act on impulse. Rather, individuals with impulse control issues are not equipped with the skills necessary to govern their emotions and behaviors effectively or appropriately. Because of this, treatment is necessary for those who struggle with impulse control. Without treatment, impulsivity will only worsen with time.

One way to better understand how untreated impulsivity worsens with time is by recognizing its role in creating a positive feedback loop. Oftentimes, the repetition of impulsive behaviors –  like substance abuse, for example –  will increase the intensity of impulsivity, thus creating a positive feedback loop that would otherwise maintain the continued engagement in a behavior. Again, because these mechanisms lie deeply within the brain, knowing this can help us better understand the challenges of regulating impulsive behavior. 

Risk Factors for Impulse Control Issues and ICDs

To better understand impulse control issues and ICDs, it can be helpful to recognize impulsivity due to faulty frontal lobe circuits in the brain. Underdeveloped or otherwise damaged frontal lobes trigger reduced ability to control impulsivity. More specifically, experiences of trauma, recurrent alcohol and other drug use, dementia, brain injuries and related disorders, and other types of mood disorders can all cause lingering damage to the frontal lobe. Thus, there is no one cause for impulse control issues or ICDs.

Other risk factors for impulse control issues and ICDs include:

  • Younger age: As the prefrontal cortex is the last brain region in the frontal lobe to develop (typically mid-to-late 20s), those who are younger are at higher risk of experiencing challenges with impulse control
  • Family history of mental health conditions or substance abuse: These variations in genetic disposition may make an individual more vulnerable to acting on impulse
  • Chronic exposure to violence, aggression, or neglect: Environmental exposure to trauma, such as violence or neglect, can increase an individual’s risk of developing impulse control issues in life

Common Warning Signs of Impulse Control Issues

Recognizing the warning signs of impulse control issues and ICDs can help shed light on problematic behaviors in oneself and others as they surface and encourage participation in professional treatment for recovery. Warning signs can be broken down into the following categories:

Behavioral Warning Signs,

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Engaging in high-risk and/or compulsive behavior (e.g. substance abuse or unprotected sex)
  • Acting out aggressively 
  • Isolating from others
  • Inability to control impulse
  • Participating in self-harming behaviors
  • Experiencing violent emotional outbursts 
  • Enduring frequent arguments with no resolve

Psychosocial Warning Signs

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic agitation
  • Depression
  • Reduced feelings of self-worth
  • Extreme defiance
  • Codependency

Treatment Options for Impulse Control Issues

As mentioned, participation in professional treatment is necessary to effectively overcome impulse control issues and ICDs. Not only do untreated impulse control issues strongly impact an individual’s life, but they also impact the greater family system. At CCM, we offer a variety of services to help individualize our client’s individual and family needs throughout their treatment and recovery journey. Some of the services we offer include:

  • Treatment consultations
  • Intervention services
  • Private intensive case management services
  • Recovery specialists
  • Concierge logistics
  • Tele-therapeutic support

Moreover, our holistic approach to behavioral health treatment will help individuals modify any destructive behavior that often accompanies impulse control issues and overcome the underlying causes that inform them. 

Impulse control issues are marked by urges and behaviors that cause harm to oneself or others. Impulsive behavior is associated with mental and behavioral health disorders, and there are many reasons why someone may experience issues with impulse control. Generally, those with impulse control issues have structural and/or functional issues occurring in the frontal lobe of their brain, which can be caused by trauma, genetics, substance use, and more. Fortunately, impulse control issues no longer have to control you. At CCM, we provide behavioral health solutions to individuals and families across the entire continuum of care. We work to meet our clients where they are in recovery to promote lasting healing and wellness. Learn more by calling (855) 467-3226 today.