Learning how to help someone with impulse control disorder starts with having an understanding of the disorder. Once you understand impulse control disorders, you can start to identify specific ways to support your friend or loved one.

If you care about someone who lives with an impulse control disorder, you may wonder how you can support them. Learning how to help someone with impulse control disorder starts with having an understanding of what the disorder is and how it affects someone’s behavior. Once you understand impulse control disorders, you can start to identify specific ways to support your friend or loved one.

Understanding Impulse Control Disorder

When it comes to understanding impulse control disorder, it can be challenging. If you don’t have one of the several types of impulse control disorders, it may be difficult for you to perceive that someone can’t control their impulses and urges, but it’s more common than you might think.

If you know someone who has an impulse disorder you might wonder, “What are impulse control disorders?” and “What causes impulse control disorder?” Impulse control disorders are a set of several disorders. An impulse disorder is defined as any condition where someone has urges to perform a behavior with negative outcomes. The urges are out of the person’s control for the most part.

For example, hair-pullingeating disorders, and stealing compulsively (kleptomania) can all fall into the category of impulse control disorders. When someone has an impulse control disorder, they feel a sense of tension leading up to doing the harmful behavior. Once they do it, they feel a sense of pleasure or relief. After performing the behavior, the person will likely feel shame or regret.

If you’re trying to help a friend with an impulse disorder, you may also wonder, “What causes an impulse control disorder?” Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but as with most mental health disorders, it’s likely a combination of factors. Biological, psychological and environmental factors may be part of developing an impulse control disorder. Additionally,  there may be hormonal factors and brain structure components that play a role specifically.

Recognizing the Signs of Impulse Control Disorder

Learning how to help someone with impulse control disorder relies on observing and recognizing the signs. While the specific signs of an impulse control disorder can vary depending on the specific  disorder, some general signs include :

  • Aggression or violence
  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Impatience
  • Physical injuries or scars from either physical fights or impulsive physical behavior
  • Appearing to obsess over certain things
  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Emotional detachment

In addition to understanding the signs of impulse control disorder, other ways you can help someone who has an impulse control disorder  include:

  • Be a social support system if and when your friend or loved one is ready to talk
  • Don’t take the person’s aggression or behavior personally
  • Encourage them to seek treatment—treatment can be effective for impulse disorders and may include a combination of medication and psychotherapy
  • Help your friend or loved one find a support group—there are many individual groups for different impulse control disorders. You may even attend a meeting with them.
  • Think of ways your friend can take their mind off their urges, such as going on a walk or attending a fitness class together

Helping a Child With Impulse Control

If a child has problems with impulse control, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disorder.

Impulse control problems can be common with children as they’re going through various stages of development. Impulse control issues can also be a symptom of disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some tips for helping a child with impulse control include:

  • Teach them to identify and name their feelings. Helping kids understand their emotions can provide them with a framework to better manage them and their impulsivity.
  • Ask your child to repeat directions after you give them.
  • Teach your child to be a problem solver. Encourage them to go over what their plans are for solving a problem before they take any action.
  • Structure and consistency can be helpful for children who have problems controlling impulses. Create a routine and stick with it so that your child knows what to expect and how to react to situations throughout the day.
  • Certain games are designed to help a child with impulse control. Games as simple as Red Light Green Light are about impulse control so encourage your child to engage in these activities.

Where to Get Help for Impulse Control Disorder

If you’re exploring how to get help with impulse control disorder, there are different options to consider. If you’re looking for how to help a child with impulse control, visiting a therapist who specializes in children psychology is likely the best option. They can create an early intervention plan and strategies that will help a child with impulse control issues in an age-appropriate way.

For an adult with impulse control disorder, a therapist is also an option. Impulse control disorder often occurs with co-occurring disorders like substance abuse. If this is the case, a treatment program that specializes in co-occurring disorders may be the most effective . Choosing a dual disorder treatment center allows for the simultaneous treatment of the impulse control disorder and the substance abuse. To learn more about treatment programs for co-occurring disorders, contact The Recovery Village to speak to a representative.

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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

Tull, Matthew, Ph.D. “Impulsive Behavior and Impulse Control Disorders.” Verywell Mind. November 12, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Parekh, Ranna, M.D. “What Are Disruptive, Impulse-Control and Conduct Disorders?” American Psychiatric Association. January, 2018. Accessed Feburary 4, 2019.

Bhandari, Smitha M.D. “Impulse Control: Managing Behaviors of ADHD Kids.” WebMD. May 1, 2017. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Grant, Jon E. Jd, M.D., MPH, Odlaug, Brian L. and Kim, Suck Won M.D. “Impulse Control Disorders: Clinical Characteristics and Pharmacological Management.” Psychiatric Times. June 2, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.