Impulse Control Signs & Symptoms

Rolling Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with impulse control build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Ada, near Oklahoma City, Rolling Hills Hospital is the premier provider of mental health & addiction treatment for adolescents, adults & seniors.

Understanding Impulse Control

Learn about impulse control

When a person lacks the control to manage impulses, acts on said impulses, and subsequently regrets or wishes to have power over urges and compulsions, he or she is most likely suffering from an impulse control disorder. While many people experience some level of inner turmoil when it comes to giving in to certain desires, people who are battling an impulse control disorder often experience a great deal of disruption and distress as a result of their impulsions. Below are examples of impulse control disorders that are known to cause intense emotional disturbances:

Kleptomania involves overwhelming compulsions to steal, despite the awareness that stealing is not acceptable behavior.

Pyromania can cause a great deal of inner strife being that this condition entails urges to ignite things on fire.

Compulsive sexual behaviors can lead to a number of devastating consequences as individuals with these behaviors are constantly resisting desires for sexual activity due to intrusive thoughts about sex. Individuals with compulsive sexual behaviors may partake in voyeurism, exhibitionism, constant masturbation, fetishism, or engage in other sexually deviant behaviors.  

Intermittent explosive disorder is an appropriate diagnosis for someone who experiences emotionally and physically aggressive outbursts that involve a great deal of hostility towards others, animals, or property. These outbursts often occur in response to a minor trigger.

Seeking treatment for an impulse control disorder can be life-saving for a person. Appropriate care can help an individual control their impulses and restore healthy functioning. Lastly, treating the symptoms of an impulse control disorder can significantly reduce the harm that these types of disorders can cause.


Impulse control statistics

Mental health professionals agree that there are several contributing factors that can lead to the onset of an impulse control disorder’s symptoms. Consider the following elaborations on these factors, of which include genetics, physical influences, environmental prompts, and other risk factors:

Genetic: The development of an impulse control disorder often occurs when an individual has a genetic predisposition to this type of mental illness. Especially for individuals who have a biological parent or sibling with an impulse control disorder, there is a high likelihood that symptoms of such a disorder will manifest. Experts believe that this link infers that impulse control disorders can be inherited.

Physical: Individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for an impulse control disorder often have chemical imbalances in their brains. When this occurs, these people have difficulty forming memories, regulating moods, and, most importantly, controlling impulses. Oftentimes, when chemical imbalances are present, medications prescribed by a psychiatrist are needed to correct these imbalances.

Environmental: Research has concluded that exposure to violence, aggressive behaviors, and chronic drug or alcohol use can trigger the onset of an impulse control disorder’s symptoms. Additionally, environments that involve exposure to trauma, abuse, or neglect can cause a person to develop an impulse control disorder at some point in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being of younger age
  • Family or personal history of substance use, abuse, or addiction
  • Personal history of mental health condition or conditions
  • Family history of impulse control disorder or other mental health condition
  • Exposure to violence, aggression, or chaos
  • Being the victim of a trauma, abuse, or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of impulse control

Depending on the impulse control disorder present, as well as the severity of the symptoms of the given disorder, the signs that suggest a person is suffering from an impulse control disorder can be vast. Additionally, the age of the sufferer and the environment in which symptoms manifest can impact the obviousness of symptoms that infer a person is battling a mental disorder of this kind. When trying to deduce the presence of an impulse control disorder, consider the following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial signs and symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Engaging in risky or promiscuous behaviors
  • Fire starting
  • Overtly aggressive, hostile, or volatile behaviors towards people, property, or objects

Physical symptoms:

  • Burns as a result of fire starting
  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases or infections due to engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Physical injuries due to acting out behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsessions
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased irritability

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem / self-worth
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Detached feelings
  • Feelings of guilt / regret
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Drastic shifts in mood


Effects of impulse control

Failing to seek care for an impulse control disorder can make a person vulnerable to a number of effects and consequences. An individual’s safety, health, and overall wellbeing can be compromised if symptoms of these disorders remain unaddressed. Examples of such effects and consequences can include the following:

  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Substance abuse, addition, or dependence
  • Physical injury from engaging in risky behaviors
  • Interaction with law enforcement / incarceration
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Academic failure
  • Expulsion from school
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Inability to form or maintain healthy relationships

Co-Occurring Disorders

Impulse control and co-occurring disorders

Impulse control disorders frequently occur alongside other mental health conditions. In many instances, symptoms of impulse control disorders trigger symptoms of other mental illnesses and vice versa. The listed mental disorders are examples of such illnesses that can also require treatment when a person seeks care for an impulse control disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

So thankful to have made some great friends at Rolling Hills who could understand what I was going through.

– Former Patient