Building and Maintaining Impulse Control

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There are close links between impulse control disorders (ICDs) and addictive behaviors, including substance use disorders (SUDs.) A primary characteristic of impulsivity is the inability to recognize that the behavior is abnormal, whether it is gambling away your children’s college fund or eating a dozen doughnuts in one sitting. Research from Yale University states that “emerging data on the neurobiology of impulsivity and ICDs suggest parallels with drug addictions.” ICDs can be risk factors for developing substance use disorders and are often treated as co-occurring conditions during rehabilitation. 

Impulsivity is often a manifestation of maladaptive thinking and behavioral patterns. You may notice that you tend to act without thinking when you do not have essential life skills to help you cope with overwhelming or stressful situations. Several ICDs might affect someone in recovery, including kleptomania, pyromania, intermittent explosive disorder (IED), pathological gambling, trichotillomania, or other self-harming tendencies. “To date, no FDA approved treatment modality exists for impulse control disorders (ICDs).” However, when you are in treatment or continuing care for a SUD, you can do a few things to decrease instances of impulsivity and promote positive behaviors and self-control. 

Impulse Control and Relapse Prevention

Chronic and acute stress have caused instances of relapse among individuals with SUDs. Improved impulse control and proper coping skills can lower the risk of relapse when you experience stressful or distressing events during recovery. Your ability to self-regulate is essential to long-term sobriety because it allows you to make healthier choices. 

Research provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “people who are highly impulsive and those diagnosed with ADHD are at increased risk for substance use disorders.” The study found that there may be a genetic connection between SUDs and impulsivity. Even individuals who are genetically prone to spontaneous behaviors can benefit from learning impulse control. 

What Causes Impulse Control Disorders?

How you approach improving your self-control will be primarily determined by what is motivating your behavior. There are quite a few risk factors and known causes that include the following traits.

Physical Risk Factors: 

  • Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
  • Brain injury

Psychological Risk Factors

  • Bipolar Disorders
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • A lack of social or life skills 

Identify Triggers and Behavioral Responses

There are multiple tools available to help you build up your impulse control. One of the first steps is learning to identify your reactions and what triggers them. For example, you may find that you tend to overspend after experiencing a stressful work week as a form of “retail therapy” to feel better in the short term. While this is not a healthy way of coping, it is widespread. You will need to learn to identify triggers and how you are likely to react to them. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Strong or overwhelming emotions
  • Acute or chronic stress
  • Someone pointing out personal or professional mistakes 
  • Reminders of stressful or traumatic events
  • Major life events
  • Relationship changes

Many people respond to those and similar situations in the following ways. 

  • Overspending or “retail therapy”
  • Overeating or “comfort eating”
  • Risk-taking behaviors including interacting with people or places associated with your history of substance abuse 
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Mood changes including irritation, frustration, and anger
  • Changing plans or canceling at the last minute
  • Starting new ventures or reinventing yourself
  • Violent or aggressive interactions which may include damaging property
  • Flitting between social circles, support groups, or other interactive peer groups
  • Making sudden life changes like moving, breaking up with a significant other, or quitting a job

Treatments and Therapies For ICDs

Your therapist can use one of the following psychotherapy methods to help you learn helpful coping skills to overcome impulsive behaviors and thought patterns. 

  • Mindfulness Therapy
  • Alternative therapies like meditation 
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Medications can treat impulsivity when it is impacting a person’s ability to complete day-to-day activities, and they may include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood Stabilizers

Three Ways to Build Up Your Impulse Control

You can use the following exercises to build up your impulse control over time. The effects of medications and other treatments are enhanced by using these methods of practicing self-control. 

  1. Identify maladaptive behavior and replace it with healthy alternatives. For example, if you comfort eat when stressed, try distracting yourself with a favorite hobby or short walk instead until the craving goes away. 
  2. Relax your mind and body by doing deep breathing exercises whenever you feel stress build up in your mind or body. 
  3. Remove the temptation. For example, if you overspend after a bad day, then try locking your cards in a safe or other secure location or have a loved one hold onto them for you. 

Know When to Ask for Help

You do not have to cope on your own. If you find yourself experiencing risk-taking or self-harming behaviors, you should use your support system and find local resources to help. 

Disorders associated with an increase of spontaneous and sometimes self-harming behaviors are not uncommon among individuals recovering from addiction. Impulse control disorders can have a devastating impact on many areas of a person’s life. You do not have to struggle with the pressures alone. There are practical and evidence-based treatments that can help. The dedicated staff at Everlast Recovery Centers is here to provide you with therapeutic tools tailored to your specific circumstances and healing journey. You can change your behaviors and thoughts so that they become more ordered and focused on positive, healthy change. Only you can take back control of your life by taking the necessary steps to learn valuable coping skills from people who have your best interest at heart. Get more information about our facility and services today by reaching out to Everlast Recovery Centers. Call us at (866) 338-6925, and our intake agents will gladly answer any questions. 

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