Impulse Control Disorders: Definition, Types, Symptoms & Treatment

Impulse Control Disorders

Impulse control disorders occur when a person’s impulses are difficult or even impossible to control. These may vary from emotional responses such as stealing items that aren’t theirs (kleptomania) or a desire to set fires (pyromania).

This page discusses impulse control disorders, their many kinds, signs and symptoms, causes, treatments, and how to avoid them.

Read: Dyslexia

What are impulse control disorders?

Most individuals share the characteristic of having a sudden urge or desire to accomplish something.  But, those who suffer from impulse control disorders, find it very difficult or impossible to control their desires and impulses.

These impulse control problems may have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life, but therapy can help individuals manage their symptoms.

When behavior becomes a disorder

Typically, impulsive actions occur when tension builds until the person cannot resist it any longer. Impulsive behavior can provide an immediate feeling of relief, but only for a short time.

It is possible to feel guilt or shame following the incident. A number of negative consequences may also result from repeated impulsive acts, such as regret or emotional distress.

Impulsive behavior can cause serious interference with everyday life if it takes an unmanageable emotional toll.

Types of impulse control disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defined impulse control disorder as one of five formal disorders.

Oppositional defiant disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a frequent behavior problem in children. It is difficult for people with this disease to regulate their emotions or actions. This disease affects 2–11% of children in the United States, and it is more prevalent in preadolescent boys than girls.

Symptoms of ODD typically appear between the ages of 5 and 10, and they may fade as the person grows older.

Read: Hoarding Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is most prevalent in late childhood or adolescence. Short bursts of rage and aggressiveness are common in people with this disease, and they seem to be out of proportion to the cause. The reason may be unnoticed by everyone except the individual with IED.

Conduct disorder

Conduct disorder (CD) is a kind of impulse control problem that often manifests in childhood or adolescence. This disorder causes people to be rebellious, disobedient and violent.

This disease affects 2–10% of adolescents and teenagers in the United States, with men being more affected than girls. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, and developmental difficulties are all more common in people with this disease.

Read: Delusional Parasitosis


Kleptomaniacs have a strong desire to steal things that do not belong to them. The disease may strike at any age, although females are more likely to be affected than men.


Pyromania is an uncommon impulse control disorder in which individuals are obsessed with fire and everything connected to it. They have a strong desire to set things on fire. Pyromania is more prevalent in teens and adults, with men being more prone than females to suffer from it.

Those who suffer from pyromania are more prone to suffer from mental problems and learning difficulties.

Impulse control disorder symptoms

The following are the signs and symptoms of impulse control disorders by type:


ODD has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Being rude and disruptive
  • Becoming angry and irritable
  • Rebellious conduct, which is often caused by being forced to perform tasks or follow regulations


IED symptoms and signs include:

  • Getting easily annoyed
  • Well-behaved outside of violent outbursts
  • Numerous verbal or physical outbursts with the potential for violence or physical harm

Read: General Adaptation Syndrome


The following are some of the signs and symptoms of CD:

  • Destruction of property
  • Deceiving others
  • Illegal or criminal behavior
  • Looking uncaring or manipulative


Kleptomania has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Taking things that aren’t required or that aren’t worth much
  • Having a strong desire to steal
  • After stealing, you may feel guilty or sad
  • Feeling relieved after committing a theft


The following are some of the signs and symptoms of pyromania:

  • Tension right before setting a fire
  • Feeling compelled to light flames that aren’t motivated by rage or revenge

Read: Delusions of Grandeur

What causes impulse control disorder?

Researchers aren’t clear what causes an impulse control disorder to emerge. However, evidence indicates that genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the risk.

Parents with mood problems are common among children with ODD. Parents with schizophrenia, ADHD, antisocial personality disorder, or drug abuse are more likely to have children with CD.

However, it is believed that this family composition creates an unstable environment, which increases the chance of children having an impulse control problem, rather than being a hereditary component.

The following are some of the environmental factors that may raise the risk of developing impulse control disorders:

  • Coming from a low-income status
  • Coming from an area where there is a lot of communal violence
  • Lack of structure at home and in the classroom
  • Atmosphere that is negligent or abusive
  • Having friends that engage in unlawful or deviant behavior

Read: Diogenes Syndrome

Impulse control disorder treatment

Parents and caregivers may utilize methods to treat impulse control disorders. These are some of them:

  • Not providing a positive reward for actions associated with impulse control disorders
  • Encouraging adolescents and teens to get involved in the community and societal service
  • Avoiding physical punishment
  • Maintaining consistency while parenting

Several kinds of treatment may assist parents and children with these techniques (CBT) such as multisystemic therapy, parent management training and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Some specialists may give mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or other medicines to treat symptoms.

According to research, boot camps or imprisonment for a short period of time may not properly manage impulse control disorders and may even worsen them.


Prevention is not guaranteed since impulse control problems may be caused by hereditary and environmental causes.

Taking a kid or adolescent with a suspected impulse control problem to a healthcare expert may help to prevent symptoms from becoming worse. Doctors will be able to recommend a course of action.

Read: Retrograde Amnesia


The DSM-5 recognizes five distinct kinds of impulse control disorders, each with its unique set of indications and symptoms.

People with these disorders have a hard time controlling their urges, which may have a severe effect on their quality of life.

Therefore, they may collaborate with medical experts to control their symptoms. Treatment methods typically include some kind of therapy, such as CBT, to assist with impulse control behaviors.

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