Understanding impulse-control disorder

Understanding impulse-control disorder - Tikvah Lake Florida

Someone who is diagnosed with an impulse-control disorder (ICD) will have repeatedly felt unable to resist an abrupt and seemingly overwhelming urge to do something that they know is morally wrong and culturally unacceptable. Consequently, many of these sudden actions are against the law.

Frequently, from being caught or from knowing that their behavior is not acceptable or decent the person will be left with negative feelings. These are of shame, regret, and guilt.

They will also often be left feeling helpless and in despair from their behavior. It’s as if they are acting against their own will.

As their behavior gets progressively worse, because whatever they are doing is creating their negative feelings, they will look to increasingly change the negative way they feel. As their ICD behavior also gives them some respite from feeling so bad because they are consumed with it and it may even give them some sort of a “high”, they will start to get new urges once more.

Then their impulsive action comes about again from an inner tension that builds to the stage where the person can seemingly no longer resist doing it. Yet their instant sense of relief from this impulsive behavior and any high from it is always short-lived.

They fall flat again with their negative feelings. So it goes on in a vicious cycle.

ICD and addiction

There is a strong link between ICD and addiction – in fact, it is seen by many experts as being an addiction of its own kind. Certainly, it fits one definition of addiction that is: doing something that’s detrimental to you and/or those around you but seeming to be unable to stop it and stay stopped from doing it.

Many mental health disorders have impulsivity as an aspect, including substance and alcohol addiction, but also behavioral addictions such as gambling, food, sex, and shopping. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are some others.

The most recent edition of the DSM-5 – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that’s published by the American Psychiatric Association – contains a new chapter on ICD. It covers behavior “characterized by problems in emotional and behavioral self-control”.

What are the stages, major signs and risk factors for ICD?

Signs and symptoms of ICD - Tikvah Lake Florida

There are five identifiable behavioral stages behind impulsivity. These are:

  1. Having an impulse.
  2. Growing tension connected to the impulse.
  3. Pleasure on acting on it.
  4. Gaining relief from completing the impulse.
  5. Guilt (this most often but not always arises).

Some signs of people suffering from ICD include: having poor social skills, compulsive lying, displaying obsessive behavior, severe mood swings, poor concentration, increasing isolation, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

It is believed there are certain factors that can make someone more at risk for developing ICD behavior: experiencing trauma, abuse, or neglect, and excessive alcohol or drug use. Generally, ICD is seen – or perhaps more easily identifiable – in males than females.

What are the most common types of ICD?

Types of ICD - Tikvah Lake Florida

Promiscuous behavior

This means an increased urge to indulge in sexual thoughts and behavior. A sexual compulsion such as this often causes unwanted consequences in that person’s life. This ranges from getting Into risky situations with an inappropriate and sometimes dangerous person, unwanted pregnancy or pregnancies, and a higher chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection.


This is the impulsive urge to steal without necessarily needing or even wanting the item. Frequently what is stolen has no value either. Because of the nature of stealing, there is often a great deal of dishonesty too – such as that arises from attempting to cover up for themselves when something is discovered to have been taken.

Intermittent explosive disorder

This is diagnosed when someone has on several occasions acted out on aggressive impulses by committing aggressive acts. These include destroying someone’s property and assault.

Internet addiction

Addiction to the internet has only relatively recently been added as one type of ICD. It is characterized by excessive time spent using the internet.

This is not just limited to young people – but is an addiction across all ages and backgrounds. It includes excessive time spent on social media, casually browsing one thing after another, looking at porn, online shopping, and online gambling.


This is when somebody has repetitive impulsive urges to start fires. They cannot seem to stop themselves – even though they know there is going to be destruction and the potential to maim for life or even kill someone.

Compulsive shopping

This is the irresistible and repeated impulse to buy things. This is even when the items cannot be afforded or are not needed at all. It can lead to someone running up huge debts.

We have meticulously put together a friendly experienced team that has treated people with all types of mental health problems. Our luxury mansion right beside our beautiful tranquil lake is created with total comfort in mind.

We’re in the ideal natural setting to enhance wellbeing, recovery, and relaxation. Call us today to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you know.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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