Impulse Control Issues

Impulsivity is when a person reacts to things in a fast and unplanned way. People can react impulsively to internal events (like thoughts, feelings or memories) or external occurrences (like events or people). People with impulse control issues regularly react quickly, without considering negative consequences.

We all act on impulse from time-to-time, and it is not always problematic. But for some people, impulsivity can affect their relationships, ability to participate at work or school, or other usual daily activities. Difficulty with impulse control is a characteristic of some mental health problems, such as personality disorders, bipolar disorder and substance use problems (1). Often, impulse control issues start early on in life.

If you find that you repeatedly struggle with impulse control and notice that it is having a negative impact on your life, seek help. Effective treatments are available and therapy is one very helpful option to consider.

Types of impulse control issues

Impulsivity is a key feature of some mental health diagnoses. The manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health conditions is called the DSM-5. In it, there is a category of disorders that are related to difficulty with impulse control and disruptive behavior, including:

This category of the DSM-5 also contains other diagnoses, including:

The DSM-5 classifies compulsive and addictive behaviors separately, although they do sound similar and are sometimes confused with impulsivity.

Impulsivity has been associated with difficulties like substance use, compulsive gambling, self-harm and aggression (2).

Prevalence of impulse control issues

Everyone acts impulsively at times, but it does not always become problematic. It’s difficult to get a good idea of how many people do face problems because of impulse control issues. This is, at least in part, because impulsivity is not a diagnosable mental health problem. Instead, it tends to be a symptom of, or associated with, other mental health problems.

However, there is data related to some of the diagnoses closely related to impulse control issues. For example:

Signs of impulse control issues

Impulsivity can affect people in different ways. If you are concerned about yourself or your child, look out for some of the following signs:  

What to do if you are struggling with impulse control

If you are struggling with impulsivity, consider a combination of the following actions:

Therapy types to consider for impulsivity

Many types of therapy can help people learn how to have more control and address any related mental health challenges. Therapy types include:

What to look for in a therapist for impulse control issues

The best-fitting type of therapist for you will depend on individual factors, symptoms, your location and finances. When selecting a mental health professional, it can be helpful to consider the following factors:

Personal fit

As is the case when you are seeking therapy for any reason, it’s important to consider the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. The trusting working relationship with a therapist is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy.

Qualifications and experience

It is important to look for a licensed mental health professional. This ensures that the therapist you work with has undertaken the appropriate education and training. In addition, ask your prospective therapist ahead of time whether they have specialized training and experience in treating impulse control issues.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Zencare can help you to find a therapist who is a good personal fit. You can browse the videos of our vetted therapists and book a free phone call. This can help you to figure out whether you feel comfortable discussing difficult issues with the therapist, and gives a sense of what the therapist’s approach is like.

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