Impulse Control Disorders: What They Are And How To Treat Them

Impulse control disorders are a cluster of conditions not often understood by the general public. These disorders are characterized by a person’s impulsivity which can lead to harmful behaviors. The public generally doesn’t view these behaviors as part of a disorder, so people with impulse control disorders often go untreated.

Read on to learn more about these disorders as well as the behaviors that occur. If you or a loved one live with one of these disorders, you will also learn about potential treatment options.

What Are Impulse Control Disorders?

Impulse control disorders are a category of disorders defined by the primary symptom of impulsivity. Someone with one of these disorders will struggle to control their actions or emotions. This can result in them exhibiting behavior that crosses others’ boundaries, breaks the law, or puts themselves or others in harm’s way.

About 10.5% of the population lives with an impulse control disorder. They are often accompanied by other mental health conditions, including substance use. These disorders most often show up in adolescence, but since they are misunderstood, they often go untreated.

There is not one specific cause or root of impulse control disorders. They are often influenced by a multitude of factors concerning genetics, environment, and temperament. 

Types Of Impulse Control Disorders

There are many types of impulse control disorders that include a wide range of symptoms, behaviors, and emotions. Some disorders are commonly known but not often viewed as a disorder by the general public. Some of the most common impulse control disorders are listed below:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder: This disorder is characterized by impulsive anger and ire. As the name suggests, people with this disorder are often defiant and oppositional. They often lose their temper and are frequently angry or resentful. They also may antagonize and annoy others around them and constantly challenge authority figures. They may lack self-awareness of their condition and blame others for their problems.
  • Intermittent explosive disorder: This disorder is also characterized by impulsive anger. However, this disorder often results in more violence. Someone with this disorder may be violent towards people and animals and destroy property. These outbursts are usually triggered by something insignificant and only last about half an hour but can result in serious harm or property damage.
  • Conduct disorder: This disorder is characterized by persistent behavior that violates social norms or codes of conduct. Examples of this behavior include lying, stealing, violating rules, aggression towards people and animals, and destruction of property. This disorder is primarily diagnosed in adolescents. Adults who exhibit this behavior may be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
  • Pyromania: This disorder is characterized by the impulse to set objects on fire. People with this disorder are attracted to or obsessed with fire and experience pleasure when seeing it. However, they do not set fires to hurt others or destroy property; it is merely to relieve inner tension and appease their obsession.
  • Kleptomania: This disorder is defined by the persistent, impulsive need to steal things that are not needed. The person who steals does not do it to hurt anyone or even because they want the object. It is only to satisfy their impulsive need to steal. People with this disorder may throw the object away after stealing or give it to someone else.

There are many other conditions that can be classified as an impulse control disorder. Essentially any behavior that is impulsive or obsessive can count as an impulse control disorder. Some examples of this include pathological gambling, hair pulling, or even skin picking.

Treatment Options

Research on treatment options for impulse control disorders is limited. However, there have been some promising trends with the use of psychiatric medication. Depending on the disorder and potential cause, medication can ease the thoughts that bring about impulsive behavior. Talk to a psychiatrist or other medical professional if you are interested in using medication to help with your disorder or impulsive behavior.

Therapy has also been proven to be useful in reducing impulsive behaviors. Specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy has shown promise in helping people with impulse control disorders.

Finally, group therapy or twelve-step programs have also shown effectiveness in reducing impulsive behaviors and accompanying behaviors. However, this treatment option is often complimented with therapy and medication.

If you live with one of these disorders, reaching out for help is the best way to start treatment. A medical professional or licensed counselor will be able to point to the best treatment options based on your disorder, the severity, and the presence of other mental health conditions. Please talk with a medical professional for more information and guidance.

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