What are the Characteristics of an Impulse Disorder?


Most of us experience giving into our impulses at one point or another, whether it is buying something we don’t really need online or stopping for fast food. However for some individuals, strong urges to engage in certain behaviors can cause significant distress and problems in daily life. Impulse control disorders are defined as mental health conditions that involve a lack of control over engaging in certain behaviors, despite harmful consequences to oneself and others. Though these types of disorders have been found to be common, they tend to be rarely discussed and largely misunderstood.

In this article we will look at the defining characteristics of an impulse control disorder, several of the most common types, and how to seek support if you believe you may be displaying signs of an impulse control disorder.

Defining an Impulse Control Disorder

Several core characteristics of an impulse control disorder include:


  • Continuing to engage in a certain behavior despite harmful consequences to oneself and others
  • Lack of control over the behavior
  • Intense urges prior to engaging in the behavior
  • Feelings of pleasure while carrying out the behavior


While many individuals may think of impulsivity as synonymous with compulsive behavior, it is crucial to understand the difference. Impulsivity can be thought of as a spur-of-the moment reaction that an individual finds difficult to control despite potential consequences. On the other hand, compulsive behaviors are performed repeatedly in order to reduce feelings of anxiety or distress. Though an individual may feel a strong urge to engage in a compulsion to alleviate discomfort, they do not experience pleasure or enjoyment as a result of performing the behavior. It is possible for there to be some overlap between impulsive and compulsive behaviors, however it is still important to understand the distinct difference.

Impulse control disorders are thought to occur as a result of a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Risk factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of developing an impulse control disorder include being at a younger age, experiencing abuse or neglect, exposure to aggression or violence, and a family history of mental illness or substance use disorders.

Types of Impulse Control Disorders

The DSM-V identified the following conditions as impulse control disorders:


  • Intermittent explosive disorder: characterized by persistent angry or aggressive outbursts that cause significant distress.
  • Conduct Disorder: involves repeatedly breaking social rules by displaying aggression to other people or animals, destruction of property, stealing, lying, etc.
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder: symptoms include irritable mood, argumentative behavior/refusing to comply with rules, as well as vindictiveness.
  • Pyromania: defined by an impulsive desire to set fires to reduce feelings of tension
  • Kleptomania: involves persistent urges to steal items that are not needed

Having an impulse disorder causes significant impairment to an individual’s daily functioning, spurring problems at school or work, and in relationships.

For more information about impulse control disorders and their symptoms, visit https://www.betterhelp.com/ca/impulse%20control%20disorder/.

Seeking Support for an Impulse Disorder


Thankfully there is treatment available for impulse control disorders. Therapy can be very beneficial for helping an individual to adopt healthier thought and behavioral patterns. Through working with a therapist, they can find new ways to cope with feelings of anger or tension. In some cases, medication may be used in order to address any co-occurring conditions that may be present.

If you believe that you may be showing signs of an impulse control disorder, consider reaching out for professional support. Working with a therapist can be very helpful for helping you learn to manage your condition and improve your quality of life and relationships with others.


Author’s Bio

Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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