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How to Tell If Someone’s Impulsive Behavior is out of Control

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The main difference between a risk-taker and an impulsive person is that one takes the time to study the pros and cons, while the other simply jump into things. What’s dangerous is if these two traits combine and you get an impulsive risk-taker.

On its own, being impulsive is not necessarily a sign of trouble. Most of us had done at least one impulsive thing in our lives, particularly when we were children or teenagers. And we have learned to be more cautious because, as we matured, we started to outgrow these impulses. However, other people never quite grew out of that behavior and might have progressed to something worse.

So how can you tell if someone’s impulsive behavior is simply a character trait or a sign of a serious mental disorder? Here’s what you need to consider.

What is Impulsivity?

Simply put, impulsivity is a type of behavior in which a person does something without thinking about it. For most people, this manifests as shopping impulsively, doing things on a whim, or getting married in Vegas. Each one poses its own set of consequences but is not something that can be thought of as a mental disorder.

However, psychologists have different opinions about the nature of impulsivity. Some say it’s a behavioral problem while others say it’s more of a cognitive anomaly. Some even link it to being compulsive, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now categorizes impulsiveness as a separate issue, away from addictions and compulsions.

When Does Impulsivity Become a Concern?

Impulsivity becomes worrying when someone becomes aggressive or is easily distracted. They are often restless, disruptive, and dismissive of others. If you suspect someone of having an impulse disorder, take note of how often the behavior manifests itself. Buying on impulse once or twice is normal behavior. Doing something on impulse several times a day is not.

Impulsivity can also be a disorder on its own, or it could be the symptom of a far more severe condition. People with antisocial personality disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorders often have impulse control issues.  On the other hand, kleptomania, pyromania, and gambling addiction are some examples of impulse disorders.

Treatment for Impulsivity Disorder

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Before a therapist prescribes a treatment to address a person’s impulsivity, they will do an assessment test to see if it’s an impulse disorder or a different type of mental illness. If it’s the former, some therapists might suggest specialized dialectical behavior therapy. It is a type of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that is rooted in mindfulness and considered effective in treating impulse issues.

If their impulsive behavior is determined to be the symptom of a different mental disorder, a psychotherapist would recommend that the patient be treated for their other condition. The theory is that as they get treatment for the main condition, the impulse issues would also be addressed.

In conjunction with this and depending on the severity of the condition, the therapist could also recommend that the patient take medication like antidepressants or some non-stimulant medicines.

Impulsive behaviors are best addressed when diagnosed early. If you suspect someone of having an impulse disorder, it is best if they see a therapist as soon as possible. If you suspect you could have the condition, seek professional help and try to be ready for situations when you think your impulse control will be tested. Take a deep breath, write about your feelings in a journal, or seek out a friend who can help you. The important thing is that you stop and take a moment to think about what you’re going to do.

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