Impulse Control Disorder

Impulse Control Disorders are a specific group of impulsive behaviors that have been accepted as psychiatric disorder. Although they have been grouped together in this diagnostic category, there are striking differences as well as similarities between these disorders.
An Impulse Control Disorder can be loosely defined as the failure to resist an impulsive act or behavior that may be harmful to self or others. For purposes of this definition, an impulsive behavior or act is considered to be one that is not premeditated or not considered in advance and one over which the individual has little or no control.
The impulsive behaviors or actions refer to violent behavior, sexual behavior, gambling behavior, fire starting, stealing, and self-abusive behaviors.


Although the exact causes of impulse control disorders are unknown, it’s believed that the development of these problems is influenced by both biological and social risk factors. For people with pathological gambling and intermittent explosive disorder, defects have been found in the way the brain processes chemicals called neurotransmitters. Other research suggests that some impulse control problems might be at least partly explained by genetic factors that can be inherited. Disruptive and violent childhood experiences have also been linked to the development of some of these problems. Plus, some researchers believe that problems such as trichotillomania can be learned. They assert that people continue to pull out hair because this action temporarily relieves tension, and so, naturally, the action is repeated.


The research on treatments for impulse control disorders has largely focused on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person learn to relax, cope with stress, combat negative thoughts, and prevent damaging behaviors. In small studies, this type of treatment has been shown to be effective for kleptomania, pathological gambling, trichotillomania, and compulsive sexuality issues.
Although no studies have yet investigated psychotherapeutic treatments for intermittent explosive disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy is often an effective treatment for similar anger issues. There’s also little research to suggest what treatments are best for pyromania, although one study helped children stop setting fires by getting them to chart the relationship between their feelings, stress levels, and actions.
Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), sertraline (Zoloft), and venlafaxine (Effexor), have often been used to treat trichotillomania, kleptomania, intermittent explosive disorder, and pathological gambling. The antipsychotic medication olanzapine (Zyprexa) has also shown some effectiveness at treating trichotillomania.