Learning how to overcome impulse control disorder can be challenging, but it is possible.

Humans are wired to control certain urges, and this is one of the primary differentiators setting us apart from other species. What if you aren’t able to do that? What if you can’t control your impulses?

When you have an impulse control disorder, it’s difficult to resist certain, specific urges. Impulse control disorder is an umbrella term referred to a set of disorders, including:

  • Skin picking
  • Compulsive shopping or buying
  • Pyromania
  • Kleptomania
  • Explosive rage attacks
  • Certain sexual behaviors
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Compulsive hair pulling

When someone has an impulse control disorder, they may feel a sense of both tension and arousal before they do whatever it is that defines their disorder. It can feel pleasurable or gratifying to do whatever it is, and then afterward people with impulse control disorders usually feel shame, guilt or regret.

Someone with an impulse control disorder may feel out-of-control regarding not only the behavior but their life.

How Are Impulse Control Disorders Different From Other Disorders?

Certain disorders are similar in some ways to impulse control disorders. One example is manic periods in bipolar disorder. Someone who is in a manic episode may have trouble controlling their impulses. This may lead to risk-taking, such as risky sexual behaviors. While impulse control is one symptom, it’s not the primary issue.

According to the Psychiatric Times, four primary features characterize impulse control disorders. These are:

  • Repetitive behaviors that continue in spite of negative consequences
  • Lack of control over engaging in these behaviors leading to negative consequences
  • A sense of progressive tension or cravings to perform certain behaviors before actually doing them
  • A sense of relief or pleasure resulting from the problem behaviors

Males are slightly more likely to struggle with an impulse control disorder than females. These disorders often occur along with other mental health conditions or are co-occurring disorders with substance abuse.

For a long time, impulse control disorders were categorized in the same way as substance abuse and addiction. Both do have similarities in that they’re linked to problems with self-control and destructive behaviors with adverse consequences. Some researchers believe the same area of the brain controls both impulse control disorders and the development of addiction disorders.

Substance abuse and impulse control disorders may be linked because people who suffer from impulse control disorders may attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

People with impulse control may have trouble at home and work. If you have a problem with impulse control, you may find yourself becoming very angry or getting into altercations, even with people you shouldn’t, such as your boss. You may face legal or financial trouble, and you may have difficulties in society as a whole.

Undoubtedly, living with an impulse control disorder can be a significant challenge. Learning how to overcome impulse control disorder can take time and patience. However, some steps can be taken in overcoming impulse control disorder to improve your quality of life and how you function daily.

7 Tips on Dealing with Impulse Control Disorder

There are steps that you can use as you learn how to deal with impulse control disorder. Not every tip is going to work for every person, but over time you can find what does work for you.

1. Learn More About Your Disorder

Sometimes when you have a serious mental health disorder, you may avoid learning more about it. This can be a defense mechanism. It can be scary to learn about your disorder and how it affects other people. Overcoming that fear and learning about impulse control disorders can be valuable in your daily life.

The more you can learn about impulse control disorder, the more empowered you’ll be. It’ll help you learn more about your symptoms and maybe identify triggers so you can avoid them.

Learning about impulse control disorders can also help you be engaged and active in your treatment plan. You’ll know the questions that are important to ask your care providers, and you’ll be more prepared to share your input for your treatment plan.

2. Try Habit Reversal Training

Habit reversal is a form of impulse control disorder self-help, and your therapist may recommend that you follow the practice.

Habit reversal is a concept that originated in the 1970s as a way to help people with stammering, skin picking and other tics.

The basis of habit reversal is that a person can identify when they’re doing a certain behavior. Then, through that identification, they can consciously replace the behavior with something else.

The reason some therapists believe habit reversal is helpful is that it doesn’t require the participant completely abstain when they have an urge. If someone with an impulse control urge does nothing, they may continue to feel increasing tension.

With habit reversal, the tension can be relieved because another behavior or action is serving as a replacement. The action can be simple. For example, if someone feels an urge to pull their hair, they can instead practice breathing exercises until the urge is gone.

3. Keep a Journal

Journaling is another form of impulse control disorder self-help. Keep a journal of when you experience urges, and when you engaged in certain behaviors. Go into as much detail as you can about how you felt during that time, and what the setting was like.

You may be able to spot patterns that show you when you’re more likely to have urges. For example, maybe you’re around a certain person most of the time.

If you work with a therapist, a journal can help them gain more understanding into your disorder and symptoms as well.

Writing down your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help you not only learn more about your impulse control disorder but may help you feel better as well.

4. Create a Risk Plan

If you keep a journal and you start to identify situations that are high-risk for you, you can develop a concrete plan for dealing with those risks.

If there’s a certain location where you tend to be more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors, try to avoid it. If it’s not avoidable, outline a series of steps that indicate what you will do in this location if you feel an urge. Include alternate behaviors you’ll engage in when you are in that high-risk situation.

Write this plan down so it’s formalized, and if necessary take it with you.

You might consider going into high-risk situations with a friend, family member or someone you trust. They can remind you of your plan if necessary.

Inversely, if you have certain friends or people you know that might themselves be a trigger for you or might lead you into high-risk situations, you may find that you can no longer spend time with them.

5. Go to Therapy

If you’re diagnosed as having an impulse control disorder, you may be prescribed medication. Medication can work well to help with the symptoms, but outcomes tend to be even better when paired with therapy.

Working with a therapist can help you determine how to deal with impulse control disorder in your daily life.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one specific form of therapy used for impulse control disorders. CBT helps people learn how to identify negative thinking and then make changes so they can avoid potentially negative behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a good way to learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways and relax in different situations.

When you participate in CBT, you look at how your thoughts about yourself and the world shape your mental health. Then, the behavioral component of this form of therapy helps you look at how your behaviors influence your own life and the lives of others.

During CBT, you might participate in a series of steps. First, CBT begins with assessment. Following that, a therapist can work with you to help you find ways to reduce stress and change your negative or distressing thoughts.

From there you can work on avoiding harmful behaviors and learning ways to regulate your emotions. The final steps of CBT include developing coping skills for specific problems or situations you face in your life and relapse prevention strategies.

If you’re prescribed a medication for impulse control disorder, make sure you take it as prescribed. Always stay up-to-date on what you should be doing to manage that medication.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a concept that may be helpful if you’re searching for how to deal with impulse control disorder. When you practice mindfulness, you train your mind to be present and focused on what you’re doing at any given moment. When you’re not present and mindful of your current situation, your mind is more likely to wander. This can lead you to detach from your body, and it can put the focus on obsessive thoughts.

Learning how to be mindful can take time, especially in a fast-paced, modern world where people are used to multi-tasking at any given moment.

Mindfulness can be a good way to reduce stress and gain a sense of awareness, both of which are helpful for people with an impulse control disorder.

Anyone can practice mindfulness, and it can become part of your daily lifestyle.

Research indicates practicing mindfulness may have discernible benefits on the brain. For example, research from 2000 indicated mindfulness affects activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that regulates emotions.

Mindfulness can reduce activity in the amygdala and promote relaxation. Relaxation of the amygdala can help reduce activity in the nervous system, which lowers the amount of cortisol and adrenaline released into the bloodstream.

Separate research from 2005 showed that practicing mindfulness and meditation over time can impact the prefrontal region of the brain. Specifically, it can positively benefit the part of the brain that controls optimism and well-being.

6. Participate in a Support Group

Participating in a support group is an important part of impulse control disorder self-help. Support groups provide social connections to help you avoid isolation.

Support groups can also help you identify healthy outlets and coping mechanisms, and you can see you aren’t alone.  

There are a lot of different support groups geared toward impulse control disorders. One option is to participate in a 12-step program, but there are others as well.

7. Find Activities That You Love Doing

Finding things you love in your life isn’t necessarily going to rid you of the symptoms of impulse control disorder. What it will do is help you feel fulfilled and take your focus off your impulse control disorder.

It can take time and experimentation to find things you enjoy doing in your life, but it’s valuable.  

Maybe you discover you love yoga, playing a musical instrument or running. Whatever it is, the healthier the lifestyle you can live in general, the less impactful the symptoms of impulse control are likely to be in your daily life.

Getting Help for Impulse Control Disorder

If you are struggling with impulse control disorder, help is available. Impulse control disorder help can be a way for you to receive therapy and medication if necessary. It can improve your quality of life as well.

If you have impulse control disorder along with a co-occurring substance abuse disorder, contact The Recovery Village. A nationwide collection of rehab centers, The Recovery Village offers treatment for impulse control disorders that co-occur with substance use disorders. By treating the whole person, medical and clinical staff at the Recovery Village aim to treat addiction from all angles by identifying underlying contributing factors for long-term recovery.


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