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Impulse Control Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Types & More

Last Updated: November 29, 2023

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Many people have heard the term Kleptomania or Pyromania before but do not know that they are part of a larger group of mental health diagnoses known as Impulse Control Disorders. Impulse Control Disorders are an inability to not act on impulsive behaviors that negatively impact someone’s well-being. Impulse control disorders can be challenging to identify and adequately diagnose, and the causes of them are not widely understood as well.

Article at a Glance

  • There are five main types of impulse control disorders 
  • Impulse control disorders negatively impact someone’s personal and professional life
  • Impulse control disorders are linked to Parkinson’s Disease
  • Impulse control disorders look different in children and adults
  • Impulse control disorders can be complex to diagnose due to limited research and studies

What Is Impulse Control Disorder?

Impulse control disorder is when someone has a problem controlling their emotions and behaviors, often resulting in behavior that goes against what is socially acceptable. Impulse control disorder leads to urges that are repetitive and hard to control and have negative consequences in someone's personal life.

Types of Impulse Control Disorders

There are five main types of Impulse Control Disorders with other mental illnesses where impulse control is a feature of the disorder. 

Kleptomania

Kleptomania is the frequent, uncontrollable stealing of unnecessary items for personal use or need. Someone will have an impulse to steal things they don’t need for the sake of taking them. Kleptomania is found to have a high rate of co-occurrence with anxiety, mood and substance use disorders.

Pyromania

Pyromania is the impulse to set fires purposely on more than one occasion. Studies show that there is not a high prevalence of Pyromania in the general population but that it is more common in those who have a history of violent and non-violent crimes. 

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is characterized by frequent violent outbursts, both physical and verbal, that do not match a situation. They can be directed towards people or property and usually do not have an explanation for the explosive behavior that is displayed. IED is found to be more common in men, and those who suffer from IED find their outbursts to be very upsetting and disruptive to their daily lives.

Pathological Gambling

Pathological gambling is the consistent and uncontrolled urge to participate in gambling that negatively impacts someone's life. This can mean gambling away money meant for basic needs or housing. Gambling habits start earlier in someone's life without becoming problematic until later. Those with pathological gambling tend to have another mental health disorder, commonly anxiety, substance abuse or a mood disorder.

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a condition where someone pulls out their hair, typically from their scalp or eyebrows, as an anxiety response. It is more common in females and begins in puberty between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Trichotillomania is associated with low self-esteem and highly impacts someone’s social and professional life. Trichotillomania often occurs with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, affective disorder, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Symptoms of Impulse Control Disorder

There are many different symptoms you may see with impulse control disorder, with common symptoms including:

  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Lack of patience
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Negative consequences from impulsive actions
  • Poor concentration
  • Lying
  • Volatile moods

Impulse Control Disorder in Children

Impulse control disorder can occur in children as well as adults. The signs and symptoms of impulse control disorder may look different in children versus adults and can make a diagnosis more challenging. Common symptoms of impulse control disorder in children are:

  • Frequent outbursts
  • Lying
  • Problems in school
  • Irritability 
  • Aggression
  • Destruction of property


Children may have difficulty expressing their feelings and use behaviors to act out their anxieties. This can also make diagnosing impulse control disorder in children because they are unable to explain what they are feeling or why they are doing certain behaviors. 

Impulse Control Disorder in Adults

Impulse control disorders are found more in adults because adults can express their feelings and thought processes better than children. Adults may be able to tell a medical professional, friend or family member what they are struggling with, such as feeling they can’t control impulses that are negatively affecting them or wanting or needing help. 

Symptoms of Impulse control disorder in adults can include:

  • Obsessive thoughts 
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Anxiety surrounding impulsive behaviors
  • Inability to stop impulsive acts despite negative consequences
  • Lying or hiding of impulsive behaviors

Causes of Impulse Control Disorder

While the exact reason someone may develop an impulse control disorder, some factors can contribute to impulse control disorder. These include:

  • Chaotic upbringing
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Brain chemistry
  • Trauma
  • Neglect during childhood
  • Parent with substance abuse 

Impulse Control Disorder and Parkinson’s Disease

It has been found in recent research that there is a link between Parkinson’s disease and characteristics of impulse control disorders. The medication used to help treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affects the dopamine receptors of the brain, which is also the part of the brain that handles pleasure. 

The dopamine receptors are affected with the medication given for Parkinson’s disease and can lead to symptoms that align with impulse control disorders. Studies have found that some people with Parkinson’s disease who are on dopaminergic therapy also display behaviors of pathological gambling, binge eating, hypersexuality and impulse buying.

Diagnosis and Risk Factors

The reason that impulse control disorders occur is not fully known, but some risk factors have been found to indicate impulse control disorders potentially. Common risk factors and traits for impulse control disorders include:

  • Male
  • Smoker
  • Experienced trauma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Co-existing mental health diagnosis
  • Witness to violence

Each of the diagnoses in impulse control disorders has different criteria to lock down a diagnosis; however, according to the DSM-IV, the basis of impulse control disorders includes the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others.

Impulse Control Disorder Statistics

There is limited research on impulse control disorders, their prevalence and how to treat them, but there are some statistics available to help educate people on impulse control disorders. 

  • Approximately 1.6% of the U.S population meets the criteria for Pathological Gambling
  • The onset of Kleptomania typically occurs between the ages of 16 and 20
  • Approximately 3.9%of the U.S population has Trichotillomania and are diagnosed between 11 and 13
  • 82% of people with an impulse control disorder also have a diagnosis of mood, substance abuse or anxiety disorder.
  • A collegiate study found that approximately 10% of the population will develop an impulse control disorder in their lifetime

Treatment for Impulse Control Disorder in Kansas City

If you or someone you know is suffering from an impulse control disorder, The Recovery Village Kansas City offers primary mental health treatment for people with or without a co-occuring substance abuse disorder. The Recovery Village Kansas City now accepts several insurance companies for treatment. Reach out to the admissions team at the Recovery Village Kansas City to learn more about treatment for impulse control disorders today.

Sources

Schreiber L, Odlaug BL, Grant JE. “Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management.” Front Psychiatry, Feb 21, 2011. Accessed November 21, 2023.

Cherney, Kristeen. “How to Cope with Impulse Control Issues in Kids and Adults.” Healthline.com, June 9, 2020. Accessed November 21, 2023.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Disruptive Behavior Disorders in Children.” 2022. Accessed November 21, 2023.

Fariba KA, Gokarakonda SB. “Impulse Control Disorders.” StatPearls Publishing, August 14, 2023. Accessed November 21, 2023. 

Zhang JF, Wang XX, Feng Y, Fekete R, Jankovic J, Wu YC. “Impulse Control Disorders in Parkinson’s Disease: Epidemiology, Pathogenesis and Therapeutic Strategies.” Front Psychiatry, February 9, 2021. Accessed November 21, 2023.

Barone P, Antonini A, Stanzione P, Annoni K, Asgharnejad M, Bonuccelli U. “Risk factors for impulse control disorders and related behaviors in Parkinson’s disease: secondary analyses of the ICARUS study.” J Drug Assess, October 4, 2019. Accessed November 21, 2023. 

Mestre TA, Strafella AP, Thomsen T, Voon V, Miyasaki J. “Diagnosis and treatment of impulse control disorders in patients with movement disorders.” Ther Adv Neurol Disord. May 6, 2013. Accessed November 21, 2023.