10 Ways to Overcome Impulse Control Disorders 

little girl screaming impulsively

Do you lose your cool more often than you’d like and when it’s unnecessary? Do you blurt out inappropriate things or interrupt people without thinking? Do you engage in risky behavior without considering the consequences to yourself or others?

These are examples of impulsive behavior. While we all exhibit impulsive behavior from time to time, some individuals—both children and adults—regularly struggle with impulse control.

While we all exhibit impulsive behavior from time to time, some individuals—both children and adults—regularly struggle with impulse control. Click To Tweet

Impulsive behavior may be an indication of a mental health disorder or an actual impulse control disorder (ICD). It can also be caused by genetic factors, compromised brain function, or trauma—or a combination of all. Here’s a closer look at what impulsive behavior is and how to manage it.


Simply put, impulsive behavior is acting quickly without consideration of consequences. Sometimes the consequences are mild, but other times they can be serious or life-threatening.

We are naturally more impulsive when we are young because our brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) is less developed than the emotional/reactive part of the brain. The PFC is responsible for:

  • Focus
  • Empathy
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Judgment
  • Decision-making
  • Impulse control

That’s why young people exhibit less forethought in judgment and decision-making.

The PFC reaches full development usually by early adulthood (around your mid-20s). That’s when most people start to exercise more self-control.

Yet, if you have impulsive control issues, you don’t know how to stop being impulsive even when it causes negative consequences in your personal relationships, profession, and life in general.


The following behaviors, if exhibited habitually, may indicate an impulse control issue:

  • Angry outbursts—Losing your temper often, over minor issues
  • Destroying property—In a moment of anger, you destroy something that belongs to you or someone else
  • Exaggerating problems—You make minor problems more important and urgent than they actually are
  • Always starting anew—You like to “start fresh” and wipe the slate clean by abruptly joining or quitting activities or groups
  • Oversharing—Share inappropriate or intimate details without thinking
  • Bingeing—Overdo it with shopping, eating, or gambling
  • Having unprotected sex—Put yourself or others at risk by engaging in sex without any protection, especially with someone whose STD status is unknown
  • Physical aggression—Get physical as an overreaction to a given situation
  • Self-harm—Engage in self-harm during a moment of intense anger, disappointment, or sadness

An impulsive child or adolescent may habitually exhibit the following:

  • Yell or scream when frustrated
  • Get physical (push other kids, throw a toy when angry, get in fights)
  • Grab or take what they want without asking or waiting for their turn
  • Interrupt others
  • Lack protective caution, such as running into the street without checking for traffic


Any of the following factors can cause impulsive behavior:

Brain Function Problems

Problems with prefrontal cortex function may result in impulsive behavior, research has found. Indeed, the brain imaging work using SPECT scans at Amen Clinics has shown an association with underactivity in the PFC and impulsive behavior.

Additional research suggests that impaired brain connectivity may factor into impulsivity as well. Of course, impulsive behavior can also be a symptom of traumatic brain injury, brain lesions from disease, or stroke.


A family history of mental health conditions or impulsive behavior can lead to an increased risk. Some research has revealed several genes that may make an individual more likely to exhibit impulsive behavior and less self-control.

Mental Health Conditions

Impulsive behavior is a common symptom of several mental health disorders, including:

There’s also a group of disorders called impulse control disorders, which as the name implies, have to do with failure to control impulses. Examples include:

  • Kleptomania (impulse to steal)
  • Trichotillomania (urge to pull out your own hair)
  • Pyromania (impulse to set fires)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (explosive outbursts of anger/violence out of proportion to circumstance)


Trauma can play a role in the development of impulsive behavior as trauma may impact executive function and emotional regulation. Research shows that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse disorder, and impulsivity tend to travel together. Emotional trauma from adverse childhood experiences can lead to impulsive behavior too, according to a recent study.

Substance Use Disorder

Of course, addiction to alcohol or drugs leads to a chronic pattern of impulsivity. When an individual is intoxicated or in a withdrawal state, substance abuse can lead to an increase in impulsive actions or risky behavior.


While there’s no “cure” for problems with impulsive behavior, treating related mental health conditions and taking the following actions can help you to strengthen your impulse control.

  1. Go to therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention to overcome impulsive behavior.

  1. Get your body moving.

Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain—and to the prefrontal cortex, which may increase your ability to exercise self-control.

  1. Seek counsel before big decisions.

Discussing big decisions (such as a spontaneous trip, a big purchase, quitting your job, etc.) with a trusted friend, family member, spiritual advisor, or therapist before taking action can help you to avoid potentially disastrous impulsive decisions.

  1. Get adequate sleep.

Your brain does the important task of washing itself when you sleep, which helps it to maintain healthy function. Sleep problems can lead to brain health problems and poor decision-making. Keep your brain function healthy with 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

  1. Balance your blood sugar.

Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain, irritability, poor decision-making, and greater impulsivity. Keep blood sugar balanced by eating healthy snacks between meals.

  1. Avoid triggering situations.

Take care of yourself by avoiding situations that lead to impulsive behavior. For example, avoid the shopping mall if you are an impulse shopper. When you must shop, bring a list and stick to it.

  1. Pause

Take a moment to pause before you act on your impulses. Think it through. For example, if you frequently interrupt people or overshare, practice pausing before you blurt out your first thought. Ask yourself: Do I need to say this? Do I need to say this now? How will I feel after I say this?

  1. Embrace mindfulness meditation.

Find a mindfulness meditation practice you like to sharpen self-awareness and put distance between yourself and acting on impulse. One study found high school students who practiced a mindfulness meditation technique had lowered impulsivity.

  1. Role play with your child.

If your child has impulse control problems, try to point out how their impulsivity makes them feel later, and then role play to explore alternate behavior.

  1. Practice patience.

Modeling patience will help your child. Having patience with your own impulsivity will help you. Patience is the antidote for impulsivity.


Risky or aggressive impulsive behavior can lead to potentially serious consequences. If your impulsive behavior is interfering with your ability to cope with daily life or threatens safety, reach out to a qualified mental health professional.

Impulsive behavior and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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