We all occasionally do tend to lose control over our impulses. But for some of us, this lack of control becomes pathological. In such a case, an individual is said to suffer from a personality disorder known as impulse control disorder. It is a psychiatric disorder in which an individual cannot resist the urge of committing an act that is undesirable and may be harmful to himself or to others. In fact, it is not a single disorder, but a group of disorders with certain compelling similarities, and at the same time, stark differences.
Being unable to control one's impulse may be a symptom of other disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, for the condition to be diagnosed as being an impulse control disorder, its primary symptom needs to be the lack of control on one's impulses. In fact, it is considered to belong to the spectrum of the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Intermittent Explosive Disorder: This is characterized by severe outbursts of anger at comparatively insignificant reasons. These outbursts can be violent and also lead to physical injury or destruction of material objects. This is more common in males than females and is seen very often in teenagers and young adults.
Kleptomania: This disorder refers to the inability of an individual in resisting the need of stealing others' things. It is important to understand that these individuals don't do this for monetary gain, and so, this act should not be confused with shoplifting. This disorder is more commonly found in women than in men.
Pyromania: This refers to the impulse of setting things on fire. Such individuals gain a sense of satisfaction or relief from their act, which is far from the aim of making monetary benefits, hiding criminal acts, or taking revenge. This is commonly seen in children who are diagnosed with conduct disorder. These acts are rare and most often, episodic.
Trichotillomania: A common problem in children, this disorder causes individuals to pull out their hair. This results in noticeable hair loss.
Dermatillomania: A form of self injury, a person suffering from dermatillomania repeatedly picks at his own skin. The regions most commonly affected by this habit are the extremities like hands, feet, cuticle, and other parts of the body like face, gums, lips, scalp, stomach, and chest.
Pathological Gambling: As the name suggests, people suffering from this disorder indulge in recurrent maladaptive gambling that has a negative impact on their lives and relationships. Although it can be found in both men and women, younger men (teenagers) seem to be more susceptible to this disorder than women. In women, pathological gambling occurs when they are older.
The symptoms depend upon the particular type of disorder that a person is suffering from. Other than this, there are some emotions that a person undergoes before, while, or after having committed the act under the influence of an impulse. Some of these feelings can be perceived by observing the person's behavior and expressions, while others can be detected by carefully talking to the individual to comprehend his feelings.
Individuals suffering from the disorder feel extremely tensed or aroused before committing the act that characterizes the particular type of disorder. During the act, he may feel pleasure, relief, or gratification. Sometimes, a person may also have the sense of guilt or remorse after having committed the act.
The causes of this problem are believed to be both - neurological as well as environmental. Some scientists believe that the cause lies in the limbic system (associated with emotions and memory) and also the frontal lobe of the brain (linked to planning acts and impulses). In certain cases, even traumatic brain injury has been cited as a cause. Impulsive behavior has also been found to be closely associated with other disorders like borderline personality disorders, anti-social personality disorder, bipolar disorder, people with narcissistic personality disorder and so on.
Both medicines and therapy are used for treatment. Medicines, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), that are used to treat depression and other disorders have been effective in dealing with impulse behavior. Other than that, medications include antipsychotic drugs, anticonvulsants, lithium, and benzodiazepines. Also, psychotherapy and behavioral therapy are used to treat these disorders. In fact, behavioral therapy and family therapy has been observed to be especially useful in treating pyromania in children.
There is a great need to understand impulse control disorders. The biggest hurdle in this direction is the fact that impulsive behavior is a part of many other disorders that makes accurate diagnosis of the disorder difficult. Nevertheless, one needs to be on the alert, and take proper treatment and the proper time.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.