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Impulse Control Disorders

Impulse Control Various types of impulse control disorders often cause people to act out of hand, irrationally or without otherwise thinking or planning their actions. According to Functional Mental Disorders, an impulse control disorder can be defined as failing to resist an impulse to behave and acting in a way that could pose serious danger to one’s self or to others. Such behaviors can range from erratic sexual activity to violence.

Types of Impulse Control Disorders

impulse control

Pyromania is one of the main impulse control disorders. It involves a preoccupation with fire.

According to the Counseling and Testing Center of Louisiana, the following types of impulse control disorders exist:

  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Pathological Gambling
  • Trichotillomania

Additional impulse control disorder may include things like sexual addictions, self-mutilation or even substance abuse.

What is Intermittent Explosive Disorder?

Intermittent Explosive Disorder is a type of impulse control disorder that results in the destruction of properly or in the physical harming of others. People who suffer from this condition will generally act out and then later fail to take responsibility for their lack of control. They may even blame the problems that they have on the people who are actually victims of their acting out.

What is Kleptomania?

This impulse control disorder involves a compulsive desire to steal things even if they have absolutely no value. The individual cannot control his or her desire to steal and may be overcome with an urge to take something that is not theirs despite knowing that there is no monetary value to the item.

What is Pyromania?

Pyromania is a disorder that generally involves the individual having a preoccupation with fire. They may light fires for pleasure, play with fire and generally be over exuberant about fire. This disorder does not involve people setting things on fire for the sake of being paid or otherwise gaining anything other than the pure satisfaction of setting something on fire.

What is Pathological Gambling?

Pathological gambling, problem gambling, or a gambling addiction is an impulse control disorder that involves gambling in a way that creates serious and devastating problems in the individual’s life. The gambling often leads to financial ruin and many people who are pathological gamblers and do not get the right help wind up committing suicide as a result of the extreme depression that comes with this type of problem.

What is Trichotillomania?

Pulling one’s hair out, constantly, and to a point in which baldness or bald spots appear is an impulse control disorder that cause a lot of pain and potential impairment in the life of those who suffer from such a disorder. Often times, trichotillomania can lead to an inability to function normally in life.

Signs of Impulse Control Disorders

There are a number of signs and symptoms that may appear when an individual is suffering from an impulse control disorder. Generally, the signs of impulse control disorders include:

  • Acting out aggressively
  • Being violent or assaulting others
  • Being destructive
  • Stealing things that have no value
  • Intentionally setting fires for no reason
  • Gambling uncontrollably
  • Using drugs repeatedly
  • Using alcohol excessively
  • Intentionally inflicting harm on one’s self
  • Destroying the property of others or of yourself

Characteristics of Impulse Control Disorders

People who suffer from impulse control disorders will often show an array of characteristics that have common bonds. For instance, the behaviors that an individual takes part in may be compulsive or repetitive, they may have a lack of control over their behaviors that becomes more lacking over time and they often have an underlying urge to take part in impulsive behaviors despite the consequences or problems that often ensue as a result of their actions.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, common characteristics of impulse control disorders include:

  • Acting out compulsively
  • Being unable to control the urge to act out
  • Losing a grasp on the ability to control urges over time
  • Being more impulsive over time or a progression of impulsive behaviors
  • Acting impulsively despite consequences

Addiction and Impulse Control Disorders

Often times, addiction is the result of an impulse control disorder. Emotional issues and a number of consequences result from a user’s addiction as do similar problems result from impulse control disorders. Often referred to as behavioral addictions, impulse control disorders can sometimes be present with or without substance abuse. Generally, these disorders are behavioral in scope and include things like:

  • Picking at the skin
  • Being obsessive about looks
  • Obsessing about weight
  • Setting fires
  • Shopping excessively
  • Gambling excessively
  • Being obsessed about body image
  • Being obsessed about germs
  • Being obsessed with numbers or counting
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What to Do If You Have an Impulse Control Disorder

There are many different things that you can do for yourself if you think that you have an impulse control disorder. Consider the following tips that may help you:

  • Consider seeking the help of a professional
  • Talk about your problems with a friend or family member
  • Take steps to identify the situations or elements of life that trigger your impulsive actions
  • Take steps to avoid the things that trigger your impulsive behaviors
  • Change your old habits and replace them with new, healthy habits
  • Take part in an active support group for your condition such as one of the many anonymous 12-step support groups which include NA and Gambler’s Anonymous

What to do if You Know Someone with an Impulse Control Disorder

If you think that someone you love or care about might be suffering from an impulse control disorder, consider taking the following steps to provide them with guidance, support and help:

  • Be open and honest with them providing support as needed
  • Listen to them when they talk to you and try not to be judgmental
  • Don’t point fingers as this may turn the person away and prevent them from seeking further help
  • Do you best to be open to the subject regarding their problems and the help that they need
  • Help them find treatment or support that can assist them in coping with behavioral outbursts or urges
  • Seek professional help from a counselor or therapist that specializes in impulse control disorders

Treatment for Impulse Control Disorders

According to Functional Mental Disorders, “impulse control disorders are typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy, behavioral modification therapy and pharmacology.” The methods of treatment that work best for each individual depend on various factors such as:

  • The type of impulse control disorder that the individual suffers from
  • Whether they have any underlying conditions or problems that co-occur with the disorder
  • Whether other types of treatment have already been attempted in the past
  • Individual life circumstances

What is Psychotherapy?

According to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “psychotherapy is a way to treat people with a mental disorder by helping them understand their illness.” This type of therapy is often referred to collectively as “talk therapy” but it encompasses various types of therapy such as:

  • CBT
  • Family therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Other types of behavioral therapy combined with psychological therapy

What is Behavioral Modification?

According to the University of West Florida, “Behavior modification is the application of experimentally established principles of behavior to problems of behavior.” This type of treatment for impulse control disorders involves altering human behaviors in one of many possible ways through structured learning of skills such as coping mechanisms or desired reactions.

What is Pharmacology?

Often times, impulse control disorders are treated using pharmacological treatment that clinically helps to manage symptoms and prevent impulsive behaviors or outbursts. Pharmacology is the process of using medications to help reduce the symptoms of a condition such as an impulse control disorder. Different pharmacological measures may be used in the treatment of different impulse control disorders.

Acamprosate and other medications are sometimes prescribed for the treatment of various symptoms involved with impulse control disorder. According to Baylor College of Medicine, “no definitive treatment for impulse control disorders exists. [but] Case reports in PD patients have suggested efficacy of psychotropic medications, but most ICDs improve with reduction or discontinuation of the DA, or other dopaminergic medication.” Acamprosate is used in the treatment of alcoholism and is sometimes effective at reducing symptoms of impulse control disorders in patients.