Impulse control disorders (ICDs) are a variety of behaviors related to excessive urges and impulsive actions. These behaviors have a negative impact on daily life that may interfere with school, work, and personal relationships. It is common for people with ICDs to have other psychological disorders.
The exact cause of ICDs is unknown, but they may be related to chemical imbalances in the brain. The area of the brain, called the frontal lobe, controls impulses. Changes in this area of the brain may be associated with impulse control disorders.
Factors that may increase the chance of ICDs include:
ICDs can start at any age. Some compulsive behaviors start in childhood or adolescence. All ICD symptoms may not be present in everyone. Symptoms are specific to the disorder, but may include:
People with ICDs associate their behaviors with feelings of:
You will be asked about your symptoms, and medical and substance use history. A psychological exam will be done. Some impulse control disorders are easier to diagnose because physical symptoms are visible. In others, the diagnosis may be made when a pattern of behavior has no better explanation than the presence of a psychological disorder.
Treatment includes a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
There are no specific medications approved for ICDs, but some may provide benefits. One or a combination of medications may be necessary. It may take some time to find the right one(s). Options may include:
Counseling or therapy may be done individually or in a group. Therapy will help to cope with underlying problems that contribute to ICD. It is also useful for changing and adapting behaviors that are destructive. Common approaches include:
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Mental Health Canada
Dell’Osso B, Altamura AC, Allen A, Marazziti D, Hollander E. Epidemiologic and Clinical updates on impulse control disorders: a critical review. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2006;256(8):464-475.
Ploskin D. What are impulse control disorders? Psych Central website. Available at: http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-impulse-control-disorders. Updated January 30, 2013. Accessed December 15, 2015.
Schreiber L, Odlaug BL, Grant JE. Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:1.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Adrian Preda, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.