Causes, Symptoms and Effects Of Impulse Disorder

Posted on October 3, 2022

angry man showing the different types of impulse control disorder

We all act impulsively from time to time, especially when we’re young. We learn to control our impulses (mostly) as we age. By itself, impulsive behavior is not a symptom of a disorder, but the inability to control behavior regardless of the consequences is a sign of a condition called impulse control disorder, or ICD.

What Is Impulse Control Disorder?

Impulse control disorder is a condition in which a person cannot control emotions or actions. People with ICDs do not have the self-control needed to resist the urge to behave in certain ways. Sadly, these urges typically involve disruptive behaviors — stealing, cheating, lying, and violence — and may make the sufferer a danger to themselves and others.

Signs and Symptoms Of Impulse Control Disorder

In general, signs and symptoms of ICDs include aggression, argumentativeness, threats or harm to others, verbal or physical outbursts, irritability, vindictiveness, constant rule/law breaking, bullying, unnecessary risk taking, risky sexual behaviors, fighting, cruelty to animals, stealing, truancy, chronic lying, vandalism, and substance abuse.

Types Of Impulse Control Disorders?

The major ICDs are intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, kleptomania, and pyromania.

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is characterized by persistent impulsive and angry outbursts that are extremely disproportionate to the situation and usually triggered by a minor issue. The person may be violent or aggressive toward people, animals, or property.

A person with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) frequently loses their temper, is easily annoyed, and often becomes angry or resentful. They challenge authority figures (parents, teachers, etc.), flout rules, disobey, bother other people on purpose, and blame others for their problems. Many children with ODD eventually develop conduct disorder, which is usually considered more severe.

Conduct disorder involves a chronic pattern of violating social norms, rules, and the rights of others. Common symptoms of CD include frequent rule-breaking, angry outbursts, aggression towards others (bullying, fighting, or even sexual assault), mistreating children or animals, lying, cheating, excessive substance use, truancy, and even criminal behavior (theft, vandalism, or arson).

Kleptomania sufferers lack the self-control over the compulsion to steal — but not for monetary or personal gain. They may steal things and give them to other people or even throw them away.

Pyromania is the obsession with fire and the compulsive need to set fires. Sufferers do not set fires for any other reason other than their compulsion to do so — not for political or personal motivations. This is quite different from arson — the deliberate setting of fires for personal, monetary, or political reasons.

Causes Of Impulse Disorder

There is no single cause for impulse control disorders. Physiological, environmental, genetic, and temperamental factors may play a role in the development of a disorder. In many cases, multiple factors interact to increase the likelihood that someone will develop an ICD.

Research suggests that genetics plays a role in the development of impulse control disorders, as some seem to be inherited. Children and teens who have family members that suffer from mental health disorders have a higher chance of developing impulse control disorders.

Children with impulse control disorders are significantly more likely to have been abused, neglected, harshly punished, or exposed to substance abuse or violence at home.

Imaging tests and cognitive assessments have revealed links between brain structure/cognitive function and impulse control disorders. Research has shown that when the specific brain structures responsible for emotions, planning, or memory become imbalanced, symptoms of impulse control disorders can develop.

Men are more prone to ICDs than women, and they commonly occur together with substance abuse or other mental health disorders. Often, ICDs first appear in childhood or adolescence and are overlooked or misdiagnosed.

Effects Of Impulse Control Disorders

If left untreated, impulse control disorders can have serious negative consequences, including legal problems or jail time, broken relationships, poor academic performance, job loss/chronic unemployment, or substance abuse. Those affected by ICDs also may have low self-esteem, social isolation, periods of emotional detachment, depression, and increased anxiety, all of which may lead to self-harm or suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Those suffering from an impulse control disorder are not likely to seek treatment on their own. Often a family member or friend may help the person recognize the problem and the need for treatment. Children, adolescents, and adults with impulse control disorders can learn self-control and find ways to successfully manage their symptoms.

Treatment For Impulse Control Disorders

Impulse control disorders may be treated with a variety of therapies. The intensity and duration of symptoms, the existence of concurrent disorders, and the patient’s physical health usually dictate the best course of treatment. Psychotherapy (usually cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT) is effective in individual, group, or family settings. Family therapy (sometimes incorporating social skills training) is the preferred treatment for children and adolescents with ODD or CD, and treatment may include teaching parents how to respond to their child’s behaviors positively.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other mental health conditions (bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety) are often co-occurring with ICDs. With co-occurring disorders, integrated treatment takes both disorders into account.

Medications may aid in the treatment of impulse control disorders, but no drugs are specifically approved to treat them. Medications may also be used for other concurrent disorders.

Everyone behaves impulsively sometimes. Most of the time, we limit these behaviors on our own. For those who have trouble dealing with impulses and need help, many effective treatments are available.

Why Choose Rising Phoenix?

Rising Phoenix Wellness Services is a licensed mental health and substance use disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona. We created our addiction and mental health treatment program to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are embraced, not judged, throughout their recovery process.

We offer programming that is based on Integrity, Innovation, Confident Humility, and Mindful Leadership. Our Mission is to help people recognize the unique value of their life and improve their overall health and wellness.

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