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Impulse control disorder does not refer to one specific illness. Instead, it represents a class of different psychiatric disorders that cause people to become impulsive in their decision-making and behaviors. According to Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, impulsive behavior breaks down into different stages, including the impulse itself, growing tension, the feeling of pleasure and relief from fulfilling the urge, and subsequent guilt, especially if the action was a negative one or if the person was avoiding the action.
There are many different and common conditions that fall into the impulse control disorder classification. These include:
There are a variety of other impulsive control disorders that are not included on this list. Other impulse control disorders include hair pulling and skin picking, as well as gambling. Each disorder may require a different set of treatment options to achieve long-term recovery.
Many of these disorders are fairly prevalent. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 31 percent of inpatient adult psychiatric patients are impacted by these disorders. There also appears to be a link associated between Parkinson’s disease and being diagnosed with an impulse control disorder. According to Neurology Clinical Practice, one in seven patients with Parkinson’s disease who receives dopaminergic therapies as part of treatment is diagnosed with compulsive tendencies.
Some of these impulse control disorders are more prevalent than they even may seem. Although attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, may receive a lot of media attention through celebrities who suffer from the condition and commercial advertising, other impulse control disorders may actually be more common.
For those suffering from an impulse control disorder, there are a wide range of issues that may stem from the condition. These largely depend on the type of impulse control disorder the individual suffers from. They range from trouble maintaining healthy relationships to possible incarceration.
For instance, those with compulsive buying disorder are extremely susceptible to debt and hoarding disorder. Those facing sexual compulsion often face issues establishing healthy romantic relationships and may be more susceptible to STDs, as they are more likely to have an increased number of sexual partners. Those with kleptomania or antisocial personality disorder are much more likely to face jail time than those suffering from other types of impulse control disorders. Their impulses may cause them to commit crimes, either by stealing or some other criminal activity that puts them at risk.
While the signs and symptoms of someone with an impulse control disorder will largely depend on the specific disorder itself, there are some shared characteristics that can be used to identify impulsive control disorders in a broader sense. These include:
Because of the large number of the different psychiatric conditions that fall into the impulse control disorder classification, there are many different root causes to the conditions. In some cases, the root cause may not still be thoroughly understood. Some of the conditions begin manifesting in youth or adolescence, while others are exacerbated by extreme stress.
Many impulse control disorders provide a sense of relief to a person once the action is fulfilled. For instance, those suffering from a compulsive buying disorder will feel relieved once they buy something. However, that feeling of initial relief may turn into guilt after a short period of time, especially if they do not need the item, cannot afford it, or have nowhere to store it.
This aspect of an impulse control disorder providing relief can perpetuate the disorder. If someone has been taught that certain activities provide relief, they may associate those activities with stress relief. This means that any time the individual faces stress, they may turn to this activity.
Not all impulse control disorders are caused by developed associations with stress relief, however. People are born with some of these conditions. Scientists support that these conditions are likely caused by chemical imbalances in the body or brain.
Those suffering from an impulse control disorder are more susceptible to co-occurring issues that range from mental health issues to substance abuse issues. This can make it more difficult to treat any one condition individually, as they are interrelated. A comprehensive treatment plan should be developed by a specialist that best addresses each of these issues in a holistic manner.
According to the Journal of Psychopathology, bipolar disorder may be more common in those who suffer from impulse control disorders. In addition, various mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, may be more common in those who struggle with impulse control disorders.
Substance abuse is common in those who suffer from impulse control disorders. Often, people abuse drugs or alcohol in an effort to manage the symptoms of their impulse control disorder. While substances may dampen some of the symptoms temporarily, substance abuse only exacerbates the issue in the long-term. Those who suffer from both impulse control disorders and substance abuse or addiction issues need professional help in a comprehensive treatment program that is equipped to handle cases of dual diagnoses.
It can be difficult to discuss treatment options with a loved with an impulse control disorder and addiction issues. Depending on how the disorders are impacting the person, the individual may or may not be aware that the conditions are present. The person may be aware that one issue is present, but not see the other issue as a contributing factor.
When approaching a loved one, it’s important to start from a place of empathy and understanding. Remember that addiction and mental health disorders are not matters of willpower; they are medical diseases that require medical treatment.
A large part of getting help is being ready. Many people with impulse control disorders are not aware of the treatment options available to them or that they are not alone in their struggles. Simply knowing that there are others who struggle with the same issues can help people to take the first step toward getting help. In addition, it can help to stress to your loved one that co-occurring disorders are incredibly common, but comprehensive treatment can address both issues simultaneously, allowing for full recovery on all fronts.
Fortunately, there are many highly effective treatment options available to those who suffer from an impulse control disorder. Depending on the type of disorder, how long the person has managed the condition, and its severity, the chosen therapy will differ.
For many impulse control disorders, pharmaceutical medication is recommended. There are targeted approaches available to address many of the symptoms associated with the conditions. For instance, ADHD medication may help those suffering from the condition to focus on the tasks they need to perform. In some instances, medications may be used to treat co-occurring addiction issues, particularly during the detox phase. It’s important to have an integrated treatment team supervising the entire treatment process to ensure overall management of all medications and therapies.
There are a variety of cognitive therapies available as well. Some therapy-based treatment options involve the use of behavioral modification techniques. A psychologist teaches a client to cope with stress and to find other ways to relieve tension rather than turning to substances of abuse. In other cases, licensed therapists collaborate with their clients to identify specific root causes of the addiction and to develop unique strategies to overcome these issues based on the individual circumstances.
For less serious cases of impulse control disorder or addiction, where either condition is not significantly impacting the person’s life in a way that jeopardizes their safety, family, or health, outpatient therapy may be enough to provide substantial relief. However, for most cases of co-occurring disorders, treatment is more complex, and inpatient care is recommended. Inpatient treatment allows a person to fully focus on recovery, without the daily distractions of everyday life.
Impulse control disorders and addiction impact millions of people across the United States and internationally. While some people may try to self-manage these conditions, they are usually unsuccessful. Professional help that includes therapy and pharmaceutical medication can make the difference, enabling people to effectively manage all co-occurring disorders and step forward toward a life of health and balance.