Impulse Control Disorder Signs & Symptoms

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Cross Creek Hospital helps children, adolescents, and adults who are struggling with impulse control disorder through an unmatched quality of care and support. Located in Austin, TX, Cross Creek is the leading provider of impulse control disorder treatment.

Learn More About Impulse Control Disorder Treatment

Learn more about impulse control disorder treatment at Cross Creek Hospital in Austin, TX

Defined as mental health disorders that are characterized by the inability to control impulsive urges that can lead to the harm of oneself or others, impulse control disorders can also lead to the development of significant difficulties on a day-to-day basis. Due to their inability to control these impulsive destructive or maladaptive behaviors, individuals with impulse control disorders can experience problems at school, at work, or within close relationships. Although these behaviors may provide the individual with some sense of release, in the long-term he or she will ultimately begin to suffer legally, financially, and/or socially. Described in more detail here are examples of impulse control disorders that one can be diagnosed with:

Compulsive sexual behavior includes uncontrollable thoughts and urges to engage in some type of sexual activity. These behaviors can include things such as excessive masturbation, voyeurism, chronic use of pornography, fetishes, exhibitionism, and engaging in promiscuous behaviors.

Intermittent explosive disorder includes highly aggressive behaviors and emotional reactions that are usually out of proportion to the situation at hand.

Kleptomania is a condition in which individuals are unable to resist the urge to steal things that do not belong to them.

Pyromania is a condition in which an individual has a fascination with fire and is unable to resist setting things on fire. These individuals experience pleasurable feelings while engaging in fire-setting behaviors.

The presence of any type of impulse control disorder can bring about a host of detrimental consequences that, in some instances, can be life-threatening. However, the good news is that there are many treatment options available that can help these individuals learn how to control their destructive behaviors.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for impulse control disorder

As is most often the case with mental health disorders, researchers are unable to determine an exact cause for the development of an impulse control disorder. However, it is believed that many factors, such as biological, physical, or environmental factors, can play a role. Consider the following when coming to understand the development of impulse control disorders:

Genetic: Multiple research studies have shown that family members of those with impulse control disorders are at a higher risk for developing one of these disorders themselves. This indicates that impulse control disorders have a strong genetic component.

Environmental: It is also commonly believed that one’s environment can greatly impact whether an individual who is predisposed to this condition will go on to develop impulse control problems. For example, individuals who have grown up in a highly stressful, chaotic home life or who have been the victims of abuse or neglect are at a higher risk for developing an impulse control disorder than are other individuals who have not shared similar experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Variations in brain chemistry and function
  • Experiencing severe head injury
  • Having epilepsy
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being of younger age
  • Chronic exposure to violence and aggression

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of impulse control disorder

The symptoms associated with impulse control disorders represent an individual’s inability to control an impulse and will vary depending upon the specific type of impulse control disorder that the individual is struggling with. Additionally, the symptoms associated with these disorders tend to get worse over time, no matter which type of impulse control disorder it is. Some of the most common symptoms include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Starting fires
  • Sudden explosive anger or acts of violence
  • Hair pulling
  • Participating in risky sexual behaviors
  • Stealing
  • Compulsive lying
  • Poor social skills
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Burn marks on those who engage in fire-starting behaviors
  • Presence of sexually-transmitted diseases from engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Patches of missing hair
  • Physical injuries or scars from engaging in physical fights or aggressive episodes
  • Unplanned pregnancy

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to control impulses
  • Unable to remain patient
  • Obsessive thought patterns
  • Compulsive thought patterns

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Feeling unable to control actions
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Lowered feelings of self-worth
  • Episodes of emotional detachment
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


Effects of impulse control disorder

Impulse control disorders have the ability to significantly impair an individual’s life on a daily basis and, when left untreated, these daily complications have the ability to develop into serious, long-term consequences. Below are some possible negative outcomes that could be experienced should the symptoms of an impulse control disorder be left untreated:

  • Having a hard time developing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Participating in self-harming behaviors
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to meet responsibilities at work
  • Consistently decreasing feelings of self-worth
  • Financial difficulties
  • Consistent hospitalization
  • Legal interaction, including incarceration
  • Suspension or expulsion from school

Co-Occuring Disorders

Impulse control disorder and co-occurring disorders

Impulse control disorders are known to occur alongside various mental health conditions, so it is very common for an individual to meet the diagnostic criteria for another mental illness when he or she is suffering from an impulse control disorder. The following are examples of disorders that most commonly co-occur with an impulse control disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
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Past Clients Say

Before Cross Creek, I was dealing with multiple mental & behavioral health issues by myself. Because of what I learned at Cross Creek, I now have the tools to manage them and live a happy, healthy life. I am so thankful for all of the staff that put so much time into supporting me.

– Former Patient