Impulse control disorders (ICDs) are extreme urges and failure to resist acting on them.
ICDs can involve:
- Pulling one’s hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes—trichotillomania
- Outbursts of physical or verbal rage—intermittent explosive disorder
- Setting fires—pyromania
- Sexual thoughts and acts
- Uncontrolled use of the Internet, which may serve as an outlet for other ICDs
ICDs can make daily life difficult. They cause problems with school, work, and other people in your life. They often involve problems with money and the law.
The cause of ICDs is unknown. It may be caused by changes in an area of the brain called the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe of the brain controls impulses.
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ICD is more common in those who:
- Have other mental health problem such as bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Have substance misuse problem or problem in the family
- Have family history of ICD
- Have Tourette syndrome
- Have family problems such as fighting or abuse
- Use some medicine that treat Parkinson disease
- Have late stage Parkinson disease
ICDs can start at any age. Many start when you're a child or a teen. Symptoms are based on the ICD you have.
ICDs may cause:
- Injuries from fights or burns from starting fires
- Lying or stealing
- Compulsive or repetitive behaviors
- Irritability, impatience, or anger
- Problems with your family, partner, or spouse
- Repeated problems with other people in your life, school, or work
- Problems with money or the law, which may involve being arrested
People with ICDs tend to feel:
- Growing tension before the act
- Pleasure or euphoria during the act
- Relief after the act—there may or may not be feelings of guilt or distress
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions may be asked about problems and mental health concerns. It is important to be open and honest with the doctor. The answers can help to make a diagnosis and guide treatment.
Treatment can help to manage symptoms. The exact plan will be based on individual needs. Steps may include:
- Medicine—to ease symptoms. Treatment may include more than 1 type of medicine. It may take some time to find the right mix of medicine.
- Therapy may be done alone or in a group. It will help to cope with problems linked to ICD. Medicine may also ease reaction to urges. There are many types of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family therapy are some choices that may be used for ICD.
There is no way to prevent ICDs since the cause is unknown.
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Dell’Osso B, Altamura AC, Allen A, Marazziti D, Hollander E. Epidemiologic and Clinical updates on impulse control disorders: a critical review. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2006;256(8):464-475.
Ploskin D. What are impulse control disorders? Psych Central website. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-impulse-control-disorders. Accessed August 3, 2020.
Schreiber L, Odlaug BL, Grant JE. Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:1.
Last reviewed May 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 8/12/2020