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Impulse control disorders are a type of mental health disorder that can be incredibly disruptive to an individual’s life. While there are five standalone types of impulse control disorders officially recognized by the DSM-5, many more disorders show similar effects or are in part related to impulse control problems.

What is an Impulse Control Disorder?

Impulse control disorders are a common type of mental health condition. This class of disorders is defined by a difficulty in managing one’s own emotions or behavior. These disorders are known for causing significant disruptions in a person’s life. Depending on the specific disorder, a person may have trouble managing relationships or face legal and financial difficulties as a result.

Although different impulse control disorders can affect a person in vastly different ways, each is defined by an inability to control urges or feelings. Impulse control disorders can be managed through a combination of medication and psychotherapy treatment options.

Types of Impulse Control Disorders

Pyromania

Pyromania is an impulse control disorder that revolves around a fascination with starting or observing a fire. Pyromania is often used as a term for arson, although these are two entirely different occurrences. Arson is the criminal act of setting fire to property, while pyromania is a psychological disorder. A person with pyromania may commit arson because of their condition, but many will set small, controllable areas like their backyard. Most pyromaniacs will never commit arson or any either related crimes.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to experience sudden bursts of rage or violence that is disproportionate to the situation. During an episode, a person with intermittent explosive disorder may be destructive to the environment around him. 

 

Due to the inability to control their anger, people with intermittent explosive disorder usually have immense difficulty managing relationships at home and work. Without treatment, intermittent explosive disorder can lead to episodes of domestic abuse, road rage, or public fights. It is not uncommon for a person with intermittent explosive disorder to have legal ramifications due to their actions.

Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a mental health condition that causes an irresistible urge to steal. The items stolen by a kleptomaniac are often worthless or frivolous goods. When a person is forced to steal to support themselves or others, including food or valuable goods, that is not an example of kleptomania. Much like with pyromania, not everyone who commits the crime of theft is a kleptomaniac.

 

As a kleptomaniac feels urges to steal items that mean little to them, they often do not keep the goods. A kleptomaniac may throw away stolen items, give them to others, or attempt to return them to the store.

Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is the clinical terminology used for what is more commonly called gambling addiction. A pathological gambler will have difficulty dealing with urges related to gambling. The symptoms associated with pathological gambling are closely related to substance abuse, with gambling addicts experiencing something similar to substance tolerance. As a person continues to gamble, they will feel compelled to place larger bets more often to feel the adrenaline rush they crave. Without treatment, a pathological gambler may face serious financial difficulties and strained relationships.

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is more commonly referred to as “hair-pulling disorder.” It is an impulse control disorder that causes a person to feel uncontrollable urges to pull hair from the scalp, face or other parts of their body. While trichotillomania is not necessarily a dangerous condition, it can cause a person to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with their appearance or behavior.

Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Pyromania, explosive disorder, pathological gambling, trichotillomania, and kleptomania are the five standalone impulse control disorders. However, some other disorders are directly related to an inability to control one’s impulses. One example of this is compulsive sexual behavior, more commonly referred to as sex addiction or hypersexuality.

 

Compulsive sexual behavior can cause a variety of different behaviors. A person may feel the need to engage in sexual activity with multiple partners, place themselves in sexual situations, watch pornography, or masturbate more than usual. This disorder can be disruptive to one’s life and harmful to romantic relationships. Depending on how the condition affects behavior, a person may have difficulty staying faithful to a partner and may put themselves at risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder

Oppositional defiance disorder, or ODD, is a disorder that primarily presents in children or teenagers. It causes a pattern of anger or defiance in the face of authority figures, including parents, coaches, and teachers. Without treatment, adolescents may get into consistent trouble at school and have a strained relationship with family and friends.

Other Disorders Related to Impulse Control

Some other disorders that are associated with impulse control include:

  • Compulsive shopping
  • Internet Addiction
  • Compulsive skin picking
  • Conduct disorder
  • Compulsive nail biting

How to Help Someone With an Impulse Control Disorder

The best way to help someone with an impulse control disorder is to encourage them to seek treatment. Impulse control disorders can often be impossible to manage alone with therapy or medication options. Although impulse control disorders are often disruptive and can put a significant strain on a person’s relationships, those around them must show understanding and support during the treatment process.

 

Some people with impulse control disorders may be in denial that they have a problem or feel they can control their disorder without treatment. Some individuals with an impulse control disorder may be putting themselves or others in distress or danger due to their disorder and still refuse treatment. If that is the case, their loved ones need to be both supportive and firm that treatment is the best approach. Without treatment, some with impulse control disorders can cause an immense amount of financial and legal trouble. It is essential for loved ones not to enable a person with an impulse control disorder as they fall deeper into debt or harm’s way.

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Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford

Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.

Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford

Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.