Impulsive Control Disorder- Top 3 Causes and Treatment

People who struggle or cannot regulate their impulses are said to have impulsive control problems. These might involve emotional responses such as the temptation to start fires or steal items that are not theirs (kleptomania) (pyromania).

What is Impulsive Control Disorder?

Children and adolescents who lack emotional and behavioral self-control may have an impulse control problem. Chronic issues with a lack of self-control are the hallmark of impulse control disorders, which eventually cause severe disruptions and dysfunctions in a person’s personal, familial, social, and intellectual spheres of life. Despite the adverse outcomes that result from engaging in such activities, children and adolescents with impulse control problems commonly engage in repetitive, harmful behaviours.

Impulsive Control Disorder

Treatment is essential for these people because they lack the abilities to control their behaviours and emotional reactions. The cravings to engage in the activities are unquestionably overwhelming and all-consuming, so even when people with these illnesses want to regain control over their emotions and actions, they find it difficult, and almost impossible, to do so.

Typical forms of Impulsive Disorder


A form of impulse control disorder called pyromania is defined by an inability to control one’s urge to set fires. Pyromaniacs are aware that starting flames is dangerous. However, they can only release their pent-up stress, anxiety, or excitement by lighting fires. After they start a fire, they get satisfaction or relief. Pyromania is part of a group of disorders called disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. These disorders cause people to be aggressive towards people or property. If you have one of these disorders you may have difficulty controlling your emotions and behavior. Everyone feels that way occasionally. Yet in people with one of these disorders the behavior:

  • Lasts a long time.
  • Happens frequently.
  • Happens in different situations.
  • Causes significant problems.

Compulsive Sexual Behaviour

The existence of excessive and uncontrollable thoughts about sexual conduct or an unquenchable want to engage in acts involving sexual activity are common indicators of impulsive control of sexual behaviour. Prostitution, excessive masturbation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, excessive pornography consumption, and extreme fetishes are a few examples of compulsive sexual behaviours. These habits grow so intense that they start to interfere with a person’s capacity to carry out everyday tasks as they should.

Intermittent explosive disorder

Unlike other impulsive control disorders, the intermittent explosive disorder is more often diagnosed and is characterised by sudden, violent eruptions of emotion and/or physical force. The buildup of intense stress characterises these frequent outbursts before the outburst, which is then frequently followed by regret and humiliation once the outburst has passed.


Kleptomania is characterised by an irrepressible, compulsive, and recurrent need to steal and horde other people’s property. Kleptomaniacs frequently understand that their activity is immoral and pointless. Yet, they nonetheless engage in it even though, in most cases, the stuff they are stealing is not even something they need. These people also experience sensations of stress before engaging in the crime, followed by feelings of joy, fulfilment, and relief once it has been carried out, when they first feel the temptation to conduct the theft. It is also crucial to understand that individuals with kleptomania do not steal as a way to vent their frustration or exact revenge, nor do they do it in reaction to a hallucination or delusion. It just signifies that this type of mental disorder is present.

Impulsive Control Disorder

Causes of Impulsive Control Disorder

Since mental health specialists have not been able to pinpoint a single reason why impulse control disorders arise, it is generally accepted that a number of different variables interact to produce the start of an impulse control problem. Examples of such contributory elements are provided below.

  • Impulsive control problems appear to have a substantial hereditary component, as is the case with most mental health diseases. Numerous research has revealed that youngsters and teenagers who have relatives with diseases like mood disorders are more likely to experience signs of impulse control difficulties.
  • Physical: Studies have revealed that there is a considerable likelihood that symptoms of impulse control behaviours might emerge when the specific brain regions associated with the functioning of emotions, planning, and memory get out of balance.
  • Environmental: The beginning of behaviours that are signs of impulse control disorders can be significantly influenced by environmental variables. Children who grow up in homes with a high prevalence of violence, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and explosive emotional reactivity to certain events may be more likely to experience some kind of impulsive control issue. The start of such activities may be a somewhat unconscious way for certain kids and teenagers to take control over circumstances over which they would otherwise have no influence and provide them a sense of escape from the turmoil that surrounds them.
Impulsive Control Disorder

Risk Factors

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Chronic exposure to violence and aggressive
  • Being the subject of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse and addiction

Signs and symptoms of impulsive control

Depending on the age of the children or teenagers affected, the sort of impulsive control they are having trouble with, their surroundings, and whether they are male or female, the indications and symptoms of impulse control problems will differ. Examples of many behavioural, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that might be present in a child or teenager with an impulse control issue include the following:

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Aggression
  • Acting out in risky sexual behaviors
  • Stealing
  • Playing with fire
  • Lying

Physical symptoms:

  • The presence of STDs in adolescents who are participating in risky sexual behaviors
  • Burns on the skin of children and adolescents who experiment or play with fire
  • Injuries resulting from physical fights

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Lack of patience
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Obsessive and intrusive thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation
  • Brief periods of emotional detachment
  • Depression
  • Increased levels of anxiety


The effects of impulsive control disorders can be extremely detrimental to the lives of children and adolescents who do not receive treatment. Some examples of the types of effects that can result from impulse control disorders can include:

  • Difficulty developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships
  • Failure in academic and career ventures
  • Self-injury
  • Criminal involvement and/or incarceration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours
Impulsive Control Disorder


Both behavioural and medicinal approaches are used to treat an impulsive control issue. Cognitive behaviour therapy would be the most common type of therapy (CBT). Due to its emphasis on revealing the connection between ideas and behaviours, CBT is beneficial in addressing impulse control problems. To help clients with impulse control disorders regulate their impulsive desires, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help them replace erroneous thinking processes with more constructive and realistic ones. This will allow clients to justify their beliefs. Once a person knows their flawed thinking, beliefs, and attitudes regarding gambling, typically generated from cultural influences and values, they may use a person with gambling addiction as an example.

The individual can start the process of changing their way of life to incorporate other productive habits in place of their gambling habits. People with the same illness can discuss the difficulties and victories involved in treating the problem in group therapy or support organisations like gamblers anonymous. Group members can encourage one another, which might help get someone to stop engaging in an undesirable habit. The emotional interior of a person with the impulsive disorder is thoroughly examined in interpersonal therapy, along with how those emotions influence their conduct. Interpersonal therapy would aim to address the submerged emotional problems that eventually lead to impulsive control behaviour. A client will be less likely to continue engaging in the detrimental conduct when they comprehend why they do it. Another method for improving impulse control behaviours is biofeedback. As a person uses relaxation techniques, biofeedback tracks their heart rate and breathing rate to assist them learn how to manage their bodily processes.

The purpose of treatment is to show patients how to unwind and reduce their anxiety when faced with impulsive triggers. The drug naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, has been administered to people with impulse control problems as another alternate therapy for controlling impulsive desires. A pilot investigation has found that the medicine dramatically reduces cravings and effectively curbs impulsive behaviour.


Pathological gambling, kleptomania, compulsive shopping, pyromania, and violence are examples of impulsive-control disorders (ICD). A 12-step programme, which is very similar to alcoholics anonymous and provides peer support, appears to be the only treatment effective for treating all of these diseases. The intense desires connected to ICDs appear to be reduced by this programme, cognitive behavioural therapy, and the use of selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

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Tejas S Bala

Tejas Bala is the founder of Atmana, the company behind BlockerX. Though his background is technical, he has been working on products in the personal wellness and mental health domain since more than 8 years. His interests include technology addiction and behavioral addiction treatments. He shares his learnings and insights via articles on the BlockerX blog.