What Are Impulse Control Disorders?
Impulse Control Disorders are a group of mental illnesses in which a person is unable to resist certain patterns of behaviors that may result in harm to the individual or others around them. While anyone can - upon occasion - be capable of acting impulsively, this type of disorder involves an actual mental illness, not simply a bad choice or three.
While these behaviors have been grouped into one main type, Impulse Control Disorder, each disorder is markedly different from each others.
These behaviors are not premeditated (planned in advance) and often, the person cannot control these behaviors. The behaviors may include violent tendencies, sexual behavior, self-injury, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
It's important to distinguish that an impulsive act is different than an impulse control disorder. For example, not everyone who shoplifts is a kleptomaniac, nor is every person who starts a fire a pyromaniac.
Impulse disorders are often a coping mechanism for those who struggle with managing their emotions or controlling their situation.
What is the Cycle for an Impulsive Behavior?
The cycle of impulsive behavior for someone who has ICD is feeling tension building prior to the impulsive behavior, followed by pleasure, release, or gratification upon completing the impulsive behavior, followed by guilt or shame about the behavior.
What Causes Impulse Control Disorders?
Researchers have yet to ascertain what, precisely, causes certain individuals to develop ICDs. It's likely that there are a number of factors that play a role in the development of an ICD. These factors may include: emotional, environmental, psychological, physical, societal and cultural factors.
It has been proposed that there are some structures of the brain (like the limbic system and the frontal lobe) that may be linked to memory, emotions, and controlling impulses.
ICDs may often occur with other existing mental or physical conditions, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury, personality disorders, and eating disorders.
Substance abuse, in particular, seems to have a high correlation with Impulse Control Disorders.
Traumatic Brain Injury may lead some people to develop impulsive behaviors and disorders, especially if the brain damage occurs in the frontal cortex area.
As impulse control disorders so frequently occur with other mental illnesses, it may be hard to distinguish where the Impulse Control Disorder begins and the other mental illness ends.
How Are Impulse Disorders Different From Other Disorders?
Impulse disorders may appear to be similar to other disorders, such as the behavior during a manic episode of bipolar disorder, in which the person struggles to control their impulses. The difference lies in the ability to control their impulses, which is not the main focus for the problem.
For example, a person with ADHD may have a difficult time controlling his or her impulses and behaviors, but it is not the primary focus of the disorder.
What types of Impulse Disorders are there?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (TR-IV), there are five "accepted" diagnoses that are Impulsive Disorders. They include:
- Pathological gambling - the inability to resist the urge to gamble that may lead to extreme social and/or personal consequences.
- Kleptomania - the irresistible urge to steal items of trivial value.
- Pyromania - a pattern of deliberately setting fires for pleasure or satisfaction from the release of tension experienced beforehand.
- Trichotillomania - the impulse and compulsive urge to pull, twist, or pluck one's own hair which leads to noticeable hair loss, distress, social or functional impairment.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder - repeated episodes of violent, aggressive behavior that's grossly out of proportion to a situation.
Other research has pointed to sexual disorders such as impulsive sexuality and sexual behavior, internet addiction, and internet gaming addiction.
There are numerous studies available that have linked other problematic behaviors with certain Impulsive Disorders:
- Impulsive Gambling: This is often associated with suicide, suicide attempts, and addiction to drugs, nicotine. Further, those with gambling issues tend to also be diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, antisocial personality disorder, and paranoia.
- Kleptomania: This disorder is often associated with many of the same problems as impulsive gambling, but also includes panic disorder and bulimia.
- Trichotillomania: This disorder is often associated with many of the same problems, but specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder. Trichotillomania is often considered to be a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder: This disorder is also associated with many of the same problems, but is also experienced with post-traumatic-stress disorder, social phobias, and bulimia.
- Pyromania: This disorder has very little research conducted and thus the correlated disorders are currently unknown.
Treatment for Impulse Control Disorders:
After a therapist conducts relevant assessment and testing, as well as reviews a psycho-social history, a diagnosis of Impulse Control Disorder can be made and treatment options can be explored.
The two most common treatments for Impulse Control Disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications.
Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to examine the way a person's actions influence their thinking, and vice versa. Looking at what the precursors to an impulsive behavior can help reduce the likelihood of engaging in the behavior.
Medication may be used to treat symptoms of anxiety or depression, or other side effects of the Impulse Control disorders. Certain medications such as SSRIs and anti-depressants may help calm the impulse feelings as well.
Other Resources For Impulse Control Disorders:
NewHarbinger.com - This website contains a section called PsychSolve which has information about various psychological disorders, including Impulse Control Disorders.
PsychologyInfo.com - This website has information for those practicing psychology. This page contains information about Impulse Control Disorders, including categories of disorders and treatment.