Impulse control disorders are characterized by a person's failure to resist an impulse. The person is unable to prevent him or herself from performing an act that will be harmful to self or others.
Some research has supported the idea that impulse control problems are related to functions in specific parts of the brain, or to certain hormones. It is also thought that the symptoms are affected by abnormal transmission of nerve impulses.
A person with an impulse control disorder cannot regulate or control the impulse to engage in a certain behavior. This can be any behavior, but the most common include: pathological gambling, in a condition known as compulsive gambling disorder pyromania or fire-settingstealingtrichotillomania, that is, compulsively pulling out one's own hairintermittent and isolated explosive episodes of aggression that cause bodily harm and/or property destruction. This disorder is known as intermittent explosive disorder
Before committing the act, the person may feel increasingly tense. At the time of committing the act, he or she may experience pleasure, gratification, or release. Right after the act, he or she may or may not feel regret, self-reproach, or guilt.
The causes of impulse control disorders are unknown. However, a person who has had a head injury may be at higher risk for developing this disorder. Someone with temporal lobe epilepsy is also at higher risk for developing an impulse control disorder.
There is no known way to prevent an impulse control disorder.
Diagnosis of impulse control disorder is only made after all other medical and psychiatric disorders that might account for the symptoms have been ruled out. If no other disorder can account for the symptoms, then an impulse control disorder is considered.
Impulse control disorders tend to result in social, occupational, and legal problems for the person. Since a person with this disorder often behaves in a socially inappropriate manner, he or she often has problems in all areas of life.
While an impulse control disorder is not contagious, others can be harmed by the impulsive behavior of the affected individual.
Counseling is aimed at helping a person with an impulse control disorder respond to appropriate social limits. Sometimes medication is used when a person is very aggressive. There are groups such as Gamblers Anonymous that can be helpful in some cases.
Side effects depend on the medication used, and may include drowsiness and allergic reactions.
An impulse control disorder can generally be controlled with medication. The person may need to continue the medication to help prevent the aggressive outbursts. Counseling may need to be continued for an extended period of time. A person may attend meetings to help prevent the specific behaviors, such as gambling.
An impulse control disorder is monitored by the person affected and his or her family, and by healthcare and counseling professionals. The police may be involved when stealing or pyromania has occurred.
Hales, Robert, Textbook of Psychiatry, 2nd edition 1994
Stuart and Sundeen, Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing: 4th edition, 1991
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, 1994