Have you ever wondered why some addiction patients act with no thought of consequences? Like they run into a friend in town and accept a sudden invitation to get high when they have a job interview? Or they take part in pathological gambling despite the well-known risks of doing so? What really makes an addict so impulsive?
As it turns out, most people who are struggling with substance abuse act on impulse. So, this means many have trouble controlling their behaviors or emotions. Impulse disorder could be a sign of an underlying problem, like a mental health issue or other personality disorders.
In this article, we will look at the things that make addicts impulsive and the treatments that can help them. But first, let’s understand what an impulse disorder is.
Impulsive behavior and impulse control disorders
An addict with impulsive behavior finds it hard to resist the sudden desire to do something that’s contrary to the societal norms. They may do so quickly, repeatedly, and with no consideration of the consequences.
Examples of impulse behaviors include:
- Doing drugs or alcohol despite knowing that there’s an important engagement coming up
- Frequent outbursts even when a situation is uncalled for
- Talking without thinking. Sharing intimate information
- Getting physical in the heat of the moment
- Suddenly joining or quitting groups or lots of starting over
- Engaging in sexual behaviors without protection
- Self-harm in the heat of sadness, anger or disappointment
- Escalating minor issues by making them seem more important or urgent
- Overindulging in things like gambling, shopping, and eating
- Destroying personal or other people’s property in a moment of anger
Acting on impulse is not a bad thing. It can be a motivating force behind the artistic genius. For instance, some incredible music, books, and art come out of impulsive action. But most addiction patients are impulsive often, sometimes multiple times in a day.
Impulsive behavior becomes a disorder when:
- The patient repeats the impulsive behavior
- He or she is not able to control impulses
- He or she shows signs and symptoms of mental illness
Why are Addicts so Impulsive?
While the cause of impulsiveness is not always evident, studies show that it may have something to do with the prefrontal lobe. According to this study, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher-order functions. These functions include conscious thought, spatial learning, decision-making, and judgment.
Addiction negatively affects this part of the brain and alters its functioning. So, someone who’s dependent on drugs or alcohol might be unable to make rational decisions or override impulsive urges. So, they end up acting on impulse without thinking, which is not usually in their best interest.
The ability to resist impulse urges allows us to function well in society. It keeps us from danger by enabling us to consider the outcomes of our actions. But when that part of the brain is no longer functioning well, we become susceptible to impulse actions.
Addiction causes changes that promoted impulsive behaviors. So, the addict desires to only live in the present moment with no regard for the future.
Other Reasons why Addicts can Act on Impulse
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Impulse behavior is an immediate factor between ADHD and addictive disorders. According to one study, both impulsive acts and impulsive choices are observed in ADHD and addiction disorder. Experts believe that there’s a strong link between ADHD and addiction and that many individuals with ADHD often turn to alcohol and drugs.
Different studies have shown that people with ADHD have higher levels of impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. That’s why:
- They may have a hard time sitting still for prolonged periods
- They easily lose focus when working on a task.
- They also make spur-of-the-moment decisions and do things they’ll regret later on.
Again, those with ADHD usually turn to substances. While there isn’t a clear reason why that’s the case, experts believe that these patients have problems regulating neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. But it could also be that they turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with ADHD symptoms.
It is especially challenging for adults with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD. One expert matched the situation to playing with an invisible fire and wondering why the hands are burning.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
Impulse behavior is a hallmark of BPD, a debilitating personality disorder that distorts a person’s self-perception. BPD patients are seen as highly dependent, manipulative, and dramatic. However, mental health experts say that these behaviors arise as a dysfunctional way to deal with emotional pain and overwhelming fear.
Patients with borderline personality disorder often suffer from insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They also have substance abuse issues. Alcohol, in particular, makes them comfortable when they are in the company of others.
Alcohol dependent individuals with BPD express a wide-range of impulsive behaviors. These include:
- Repeated self-mutilation
- Suicide attempts
- Sexual promiscuity
- Reckless driving
- Binge eating
- Substance abuse.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
IED is an impulse-control disorder that’s characterized by the inability to resist impulses. This may lead to property destruction, serious assaults and frequent verbal aggression in the form of temper tantrums.
The condition results from a combination of environmental, biological, and genetic factors. Many IED patients grew up in families where verbal and physical abuse and explosive behaviors were common.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, IED starts in adolescence and affects someone throughout their lives. It’s one of the many impulse control disorders where a person is unable to control aggressive behaviors that violate other people’s rights.
An episode of intermittent explosive disorder could manifest as:
- Domestic violence
- Road rage accident
- Temper that involves breaking or throwing objects.
Treatment for Addicts With Impulsive Behavior Issues
In addition to substance use treatment, a patient needs treatment for the specific impulsive behavior condition. One general approach is behavioral therapy, where one learns to work through and better handle situations that trigger impulsivity.
Healthcare providers may use several medications to treat impulse-related severe conditions. They recommend a dopamine agonist, opioid antagonists, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants for treatment. Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can also help treat IED and other impulse-control disorders. Methylphenidate or amphetamine and dextroamphetamine treat ADHD.
Family therapy is also an effective treatment for impulse behavior. This is especially true since the roots of severe impulsive behaviors may stem from the family environment. And in some cases, the impulsive behavior also hurts other members of the family. Family therapy can help address both of these issues.