For many with a variety of mental health issues, impulse control is a problem. Individuals with poor control of their impulses may be addicted to gambling, steal things without considering the consequences, act aggressively toward others or even attempt to end their lives when they are prone to suicidal thoughts. In order to improve impulse control it is important to identify the issue for what it is and then work on the underlying issues like depression, chronic anger, and fear that tend to feed poor impulse control.
What Is Impulse Control?
Impulse control is the ability to control one’s actions when emotions surge. Then the key is to control one’s actions that would usually proceed without a filter and could be damaging to the person or others. Sometimes impulse control has to do with thoughts and emotions that reflexively arise in predictable situations. Other times the process of stimulus to impulse to action is so quick that there is precious little time to deal with the impulse. This is a total lack of impulse control.
Impulse Control Issues
Impulse control is important because of the adverse outcomes of poor control of impulses. There are many problems that stem from impulse control problems. They range from explosive anger, verbal outbursts, harmful physical actions, destruction of property, harm to animals or humans, kleptomania or compulsive stealing, compulsive lying, compulsive eating disorders, and even compulsive hair pulling affecting the scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
What Conditions Predispose to Impulse Control Issues
There are several mental health conditions that predispose to poor impulse control. These include depression and PTSD, bipolar personality, and ADHD when it presents in the impulsive, hyperactive form instead of the inattentive form. Although this last condition is usually considered a childhood and adolescent problem it can persist as a problem into adulthood.
Impulse Control Issues and Suicide Attempts
As we noted, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are two conditions that can be linked to poor impulse control. These conditions are also a major risk for suicidal thinking, attempts, and ending a person’s life. While much of the focus on preventing suicide has to do with trading depression and PTSD, the potential offered by psychedelic medicines as adjuncts to psychotherapy and professional coaching, dealing with the impulse control aspect of suicides, it is an important to realize and deal with the poor impulse control part of this problem as well.
Treatment of Impulse Control Issues
The average person sees or hears something, experiences a thought or emotion, and filters it through their experience. To the extent that something may be threatening for a thing that produces fear the brain processes it through the amygdala which is essentially a center for processing fear and helping the person recognize when something is dangerous. In a person with severe impulse control issues their response appears to bypass any internal filter or processing although what goes on is usually a process that bypasses any internal controls and moves directly to emotion and action.
The most effective treatment for poor impulse control is to talk about what happens, how a person feels, what they think. The ultimate goal is to have the person come to the conclusion that they have a problem and then to be able to “insert” thinking and control into the otherwise rapid chain of events inside the brain that lead to immediate and harmful actions. As part of this process the person also receives help for their issues of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other issues that predispose to and commonly ignite the actions and lack impulse control in the first place.
Avoidance Conditioning and Poor Impulse Control
When a person takes a step back and looks at what actions, thoughts, locations, people, or whatever precede emotional outbursts, compulsive stealing or gambling, or harmful physical actions it is possible to identify the triggers that they need to avoid. Alcoholics learn that they need to avoid the first drink and thus not keep alcohol in the house or go to where alcohol is served. Likewise, kleptomaniacs need to avoid being alone in a store where they will shoplift. Those with depressive disorders and PTSD need to seek treatment for their conditions and then avoid the scenarios that repeatedly bring up painful old memories and harmful thoughts.
The bottom line is that a person with impulse control issues needs to recognize that they have a problem and then work with a professional to improve their problem.