What are Impulse Behaviors?

People exhibit impulsivity all the time. However, when impulsive behavior starts having significant consequences, the individual may be exhibiting an impulse control disorder.

People often speak and behave without thinking it through. Whether it’s a spur-of-the-moment purchase or blurting out a comment you’d normally keep to yourself, impulsivity is when you act without forethought. 

Being impulsive is a common part of human nature. However, there could be cause for concern if someone exhibits impulse behaviors frequently, repeatedly, and without consideration of the consequences. 

When there’s an inability to control or resist urges that could harm others or violate social norms, a boundary is crossed from normal impulse behavior to an impulse control disorder. With this in mind, here’s a closer look at impulse control, impulse behaviors, and impulse control disorder. 

Let’s start with impulsivity. According to experts, there are three main dimensions of impulsivity, which are:  

  • Acting on the spur of the moment without thinking;
  • Not planning or thinking about the future when making a decision; 
  • Not focusing on the task at hand. 

Impulse-control disorder is a blanket term covering a wide range of impulse-related disorders.

Signs of an Impulse Control Disorder 

There are certain signs that a person may exhibit that could indicate an impulse control disorder. It’s good to be aware of these signs because an impulse control disorder isn’t always easy to identify. 

  • Behavioral symptoms: aggressive behavior, volatile behavior, lying, stealing, creating fires, risky behavior, promiscuous behavior
  • Cognitive symptoms: poor concentration, trouble organizing things, obsessive behavior
  • Social-emotional symptoms: social withdrawal, social isolation, detachment from reality, anxiety, drastic thought shifts and moods, feelings of guilt or regret

It’s also worth noting that impulsivity can develop after neurological trauma such as a stroke or other brain injury. 

Causes of Impulse Control Disorder

There has not yet been a singular cause of impulse control disorder that has been identified. Currently, the consensus is that impulsive control disorder originates from a combination of physical, genetic, biological, and environmental factors. 


Some studies link one’s ability to control impulsivity to a physical imbalance in the chemicals in the brain. Alternatively, there’s evidence relating impulse control to a brain injury. 


Like many other health afflictions, there’s a link between impulse control disorder and genetic history. Individuals who have family members suffering from mental health disorders are more likely to develop issues with impulse control.


Researchers have observed elevated rates of impulse control disorders in male youths compared to females and other age groups.


Growing up in a home in which there is violence, physical abuse, verbal abuse, and explosive behaviors has been linked to impulse control disorder. Similarly, a history of drug abuse can be a factor. 

Types of Impulse Control Disorders

Impulse control disorder is a blanket term covering a wide range of impulse-related disorders. 


Pyromania is a diagnosis characterized by an obsession with starting fires with no consideration for how this action will impact others. In other words, individuals with pyromania don’t care if someone is hurt or if the property is destroyed. 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder 

With oppositional defiant disorder, one is angry and irritable, often losing temper, getting annoyed, and resentful. They may argue with authority figures, refuse to follow rules, and blame others for mistakes. This behavior is most commonly identified in children. 

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

When severely and overly aggressive behavior is out of proportion with the event that triggered the behavior, the individual may suffer from an intermittent explosive disorder. Someone with this diagnosis may destroy property, assault others, or engage in other aggressive behaviors. 


The pathological desire to pull out one’s own hair is an impulse control disorder known as trichotillomania. This behavior has also been classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder


Characterized by a constant and irresistible urge to steal, kleptomania is another type of impulse control disorder. Individuals with kleptomania often steal items that don’t have much monetary or personal value. In some cases, a kleptomaniac will become fixated on stealing a specific item or type of item. 

Pathological Gambling

This is a type of gambling for which the urge is so strong that it can happen anywhere rather than in the confines of a casino. More recently, pathological gambling was reclassified as a process addiction

Unsafe Sex and Sexual Impulses

More addiction than impulse control disorder, this affliction refers to uncontrolled impulses to gain sexual pleasure. Individuals experiencing intense sexual impulses often has lots of partners with whom they engage in unprotected sex. By extension, these individuals don’t take their partner’s health, safety, or needs into consideration. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

As with addiction, there are many mental and emotional diagnoses that commonly occur alongside impulse control disorder; this is known as comorbidity. Many comorbid disorders have symptoms similar to impulse control disorders. 

According to recent data, we can conclude that:

  • 35 to 48 percent of people diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder also have a substance use disorder (SUD). 
  • 22 to 55 percent of people diagnosed with kleptomania also have a SUD. 
  • 33 percent of people with pyromania also have a SUD. 
  • 42 percent of men and 23 percent of women diagnosed with conduct disorder have a SUD. 
  • Children and adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder have an increased risk of developing SUD.

As with addiction, there are many mental and emotional diagnoses that commonly occur alongside impulse control disorder; this is known as comorbidity.

When to Seek Help

One should seek help for an impulse control disorder when it impacts the quality of their life and the lives of those around them. For example, when he or she exhibits insensitivity to the negative consequences or long-term effects of their behavior, the individual may need treatment for impulse control disorder. 

Impulse Control Disorder Treatments 

Since impulse control disorders often occur alongside other mental health diagnoses, it is generally best to pursue an integrated treatment plan in which both afflictions can be treated simultaneously.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

One of the most common types of therapy used to treat impulse control disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT for short. CBT is designed to teach individuals ways to change their thinking patterns. When used to treat impulse control, CBT will give the patient the tools and skills needed to manage their impulse behaviors. 


Although there aren’t medications expressly for the treatment of impulse control, certain medications have shown to be effective at managing impulse behavior, namely antidepressants and mood stabilizers. 


Identifying and addressing the cause of impulse control disorder and substance abuse disorder can be difficult, especially when it comes to changing your thought processes and perspective. At a treatment center like Silicon Beach Behavioral Health, individuals suffering from impulse control disorder will find the support and resources needed to mitigate impulse behavior and substance abuse disorder. 

12-Step Group

Even without an actual addiction, individuals experiencing difficulties with impulse control can benefit from twelve-step groups that promote accountability as a way to address impulse behavior.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting impulsive behavior or problems with substance abuse, we’re here for you. Call Silicon Beach Behavioral Health’s toll-free number for access to resources today.

April 10, 2022

Adam Snyder


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Have Questions? We Can Help.

Our team is available anytime, day or night, to address any questions or concerns that you may have.


833 762 3752