Our last blog discussed impulse control disorders such as Tricotillomania and Kleptomania. We wrote a bit about how they can be compared and contrasted to compulsive disorders such as OCD. Both impulsions and compulsions can be considered urges to carry out some action either physical, like washing hands, pulling hair, or mental like counting, chanting, or yelling.

People with other mental disorders also have problems with impulsivity. For example, many people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have this trouble. They tend to speak without thinking, interrupt others, or have difficulty waiting their turns. Impulsivity is a characteristic of Bipolar Disorders, as well as Borderline Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. People with substance abuse problems, kids with fetal alcohol syndrome, and those who suffer some types of brain damage also act impulsively.

Most of us think about impulsivity as acting (or speaking) without thinking. We all do that from time to time. But impulsivity appears to have four separate components and people with impulsivity don’t always have all four of these issues. The following examples will illustrate each type of impulsive factor:

1. Aaron likes to take risks. He enjoys rock climbing, hang gliding, and tends to drive too fast. He craves excitement and sometimes takes excessive risks. Aaron’s impulsivity is called sensation seeking.

2. Beth has dropped in and out of college. She gets excited about a career or area of study then finds herself losing interest. At home, she has difficulty finishing books, tasks; she lacks discipline and flits from one thing to another. Her impulsivity is called lack of perseverance.

3. Cathy is very bright and energetic. She has big ideas but rarely gets them off the ground. She has huge credit card debts, can’t seem to give up smoking, and fails to plan for the future. Her type of impulsivity involves lack of planning.

4. David’s relationships are constantly conflicted. He becomes excessively enthusiastic, and then quickly gets bored. He can’t seem to handle stress very well. His reactions are instantaneous and often rash. His type of impulsivity involves acting without thinking.

So, you can think about impulsivity as involving four different but often related factors:

  • Need for excitement
  • Poor follow through
  • Poor ability to look at future consequences
  • Acting without thinking

You can imagine what havoc these factors can have on someone’s life and happiness. Impulsivity is a serious problem. If your impulsivity disrupts or interferes with your life we recommend you consider seeking professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy and sometimes medication can be helpful in the treatment of impulsivity.