What is Impulse Control Disorder?


Impulse control disorders are described as intense urges and behaviors that may prove to be harmful to the individual or for other people. It can impair the individual’s functions in social and occupational settings, which could lead to problems in legal and financial matters. An impulse control disorder is a relatively common disorder in psychiatry yet it is not fully understood by the general populace, clinicians and the individuals manifesting with the disorder.

What is Impulse Control Disorder

The treatment options for impulse control disorders are limited, but studies reveal that individual’s with Impulse control disorders respond well to pharmacologic therapy.

In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), it classifies pathological gambling, kleptomania, trichotillomania (hair-pulling), intermittent explosive disorders (bursts of rage), and pyromania (fire-setting) as impulse disorders.

Diagnostic criteria are proposed for pathological skin picking, compulsive buying and compulsive sexual disorder.

But the primary characteristic of impulse control disorders is the intense struggle in resisting urges to perform activities and/or behaviors that prove to be excessive and/or harmful to the individual and to other people directly or indirectly involved. This includes repeated or compulsive engagement in specific behaviors despite the adverse consequences. This may confuse the definitions and labels between addictions; whether towards alcohol, drugs and sexual practices but what the

Psychiatry community is proposing is that impulse control disorders may be used as an umbrella term to cover certain behaviors unless certain behaviors do not fall under the diagnostic criteria.

Individuals with these disorders may plan or act spontaneously as long as it fulfills their conscious and immediate urges.

Anyone may be capable of impulsive actions, but in order to fall under the category of impulse control disorders, an individual has a mental health issue that is present. The cause of impulse control disorders aren’t still known, but there are multiple things that could be at play, the include physical, psychological, emotional, cultural and societal factors, even hormones could be linked with the development of impulse control disorders, testosterone for example is linked with aggression and violence. Though testosterone is present in both genders, it is proposed that females may be more susceptible to less aggressive forms of impulse control disorders due to lower testosterone levels, leading them to develop impulse control disorders like kleptomania, trichotillomania. While men on the other hand, due to a higher levels of testosterone are predisposed to aggressive forms like pyromania and intermittent explosive disorders.

The problem lies in differentiating an impulsive act with a diagnosis of impulse control disorder, the diagnosis may be a psychiatric disorder, but the following actions may lead to legal problems by the individual.

Studies have shown that a genetic link is present, studies reveal that children with family members who has mental health disorders are more susceptible in developing impulse control disorders. It has also been proposed that specific structures in the brain that control emotions, memories and planning has an imbalance where it may lead to the development of an impulse control disorder. Even environmental factors are linked, where professional claim that children who grew up in homes where violence, explosive behaviors, verbal abuse and physical abuse are a usual occurrence, these children are prone to the development of an impulse control disorder.

Impulse control disorders at present may be treated and managed by two modalities, the first is psychosocial management wherein psychotherapies are utilized like talk-therapy , cognitive behavioral therapy, systematic desensitization, aversive therapy, psychoeducation, covert sensitization, imaginal desensitization and stimulus control . The second is pharmacological management where medications are prescribed to treat the disorder.

Despite the possible difficulties in diagnosis, health professionals are adamant that with proper management and care, individuals suffering from impulse control disorders can be treated.