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6 Tips to Stop Impulsive Behavior

What is Impulsive Behavior?

Impulsive behavior is when a person acts quickly without thought to the consequences. There is nothing else in that movement besides the current act. For some people, impulsivity is nothing more than a character trait and a preference for spontaneity. In other cases, it can be a symptom of a significant disorder. Impulsive behavior can appear in several different ways, including constantly interrupting, saying things you regret, acting out of anger, engaging in risky sexual behavior, or hopping from one activity to the next.

Impulsive behavior is usually associated with psychological, physical, or developmental disorders. Medications or illicit drugs, Such as levodopa (used to treat Parkinson’s disease), Abilify, cocaine, and methamphetamine may also cause it. Symptoms of impulsive behavior may mirror or overlap symptoms associated with other mental health disorders. Several mental health disorders are associated with impulsive behaviors including:

Signs of Impulsive Behavior

Although impulsivity is a normal behavior to some level in young children and teens, it can become a major issue or problem in adulthood or a sign of a mental health disorder. There are four factors involved in impulsivity which are:

  • Sensation seeking: constantly seeking out new and exciting experiences which may have an added element of risk to them.
  • Lack of premeditation: the person acts without thinking about the potential consequences of their actions.
  • Urgency: during an emotional outburst, the person may react Through negative actions.
  • Lack of perseverance: they may not follow through with the challenging activity or job before it is done.

Impulsivity is spontaneous and there is no consideration of how it can affect themselves or others. It is only about the here and now. Examples of impulsive behavior include:

Destruction of property. Destroying your own or someone else’s things during a moment of anger.

Escalating issues or problems. Such as taking a minor situation and making it more urgent or important than necessary.

Binging. Overindulging or being unable to control yourself and things like eating, gambling, and shopping.

Frequent outbursts. Losing your temper often, especially when it’s uncalled for.

Physical violence. Another form of overreacting by getting physical at the moment.

Self-harming behaviors. Hurting yourself due to sadness, anger, or disappointment.

Frequently starting over. Abruptly joining or quitting groups or activities in the search of a fresh start.

Oversharing. Talking excessively and without thinking results in sharing of intimate details.

Impulsive Behavior (1)

How to Control The Impulse

If you are struggling with impulsive behavior, which can range from harmless actions such as not being able to hold your tongue to self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse or risky sexual behaviors, there are ways you can control impulsivity. However, frequent impulsive behavior that you cannot control which leads to potentially serious consequences may need treatment from a medical professional. A mental health specialist can help you gain control of impulsive behavior through psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. Treatment may start with the diagnosis of the underlying issue such as ADHD or bipolar disorder. In other cases when impulsive behavior is associated with substance abuse or addiction a rehab center and 12-step programs may be very helpful.

There are ways in which you can begin to control impulsive behavior on your own, but remember to seek out professional help if impulsiveness and destructive behavior continues. here are some ways to control impulsive behavior:

1. Understand your impulsive behavior

You can become more aware and identify specific challenges of your impulse control issues, Such as taking notes and keeping inventory of recent behaviors you consider impulsive. You can also add in the negative and positive consequences of those behaviors and places or circumstances where you most often became impulsive.

2. Develop mindfulness

Mindfulness can help you develop self-awareness. You can focus on your thoughts, urges, emotions, and how your body feels when you’re about to be impulsive. In the beginning, you might only be able to identify these factors after you have acted impulsively, but with practice, you’ll be able to begin to identify them before the behavior. Mindfulness can also help you put distance between urges and the behavior so that you can simply observe impulses and are not driven to give in to them.

3. Create barriers to acting impulsively

After you have improved self-awareness through mindfulness and understanding your impulsive behavior, you will be able to know where and when you typically act most impulsively. Take steps to create barriers for these circumstances. For example, if you tend to overspend during the shopping trip, leave your credit card at home and take a limited amount of cash instead. You can go back to the initial list you created and right down next to them possible impulse control solutions.

4. Incorporate relaxing and calming activities

Relaxation techniques increase your impulse control. Some stress reduction activities include:

  • Guided Meditation
  • Listening to calming music
  • Practicing deep breathing techniques throughout the day
  • Developing an exercise routine
  • Manual hobbies such as knitting, baking, and cooking
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation
  • Yoga and Tai chi 

5. Find alternative outlets for your impulses. For example, instead of interrupting conversations, you can write down your thoughts or if you impulsively over drink alcohol, try to have a glass of water in your hand constantly.

6. Practice self-care and take care of your health. Such as eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, getting daily exercise, having a daily routine, and having personal boundaries.

Impulsive Behavior and Addiction

Substance use disorders are initially driven by impulsivity and eventually lead to compulsiveness. Substance abuse changes the brain physically causing people to act uncontrollably and give in to powerful urges, which can be the underlying cause of addiction. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational and logical decision making which also helps control impulsive urges. Drug and alcohol use can weaken the prefrontal cortex which can increase impulsive behavior. When impulsive behavior goes untreated it can develop into an addiction.

Addiction can also lead to impulsive behavior. Substance use disorders can lead to stealing, lying, and neglecting responsibilities without considering how you’re hurting yourself or others. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol may cause you to respond to situations impulsively as well, for example, you might drive while intoxicated, start a fight, try polysubstance use, or overdose. Addiction can trigger other impulsive behaviors such as:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Lying about injuries or pain to get prescription medications
  • Forging or stealing prescriptions
  • Manipulation
  • Doctor shopping
  • Stealing valuable items from loved ones to pawn or sell
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol and drugs period

Treating Addiction at the Root – The Detox Center

The Detox Center of Los Angeles offers comprehensive treatment programs that will find and heal the underlying causes of your addiction. Through our personalized treatment approach, our clinicians will conduct a thorough initial evaluation to determine the root cause of your substance use disorder. If you are struggling with impulsive control and addiction, our dual diagnosis programs at The Detox Center will address co-occurring disorders that may be causing these issues, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. We use evidence-based practices including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy as part of our treatment plans for impulsive control issues.

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health disorders and addiction, please give us a call today and learn more about how a well-rounded rehab program can give you back control of your life.


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Will my insurance cover treatment for addiction?

The Detox Center of L.A. accepts most major insurance providers and private healthcare policies. We offer free insurance verification as well as eligibility and benefits for both behavioral and mental health treatment services. Please fill out our insurance verification form here to verify your insurance.

What happens in addiction

Effective addiction treatment programs are tailored to each individual. Because of this, it will be a different experience for everyone. However, it generally involves a combination of detoxification, group and individual therapy, educational presentations, and aftercare planning in order to ensure long-term recovery. Upon arrival at The Detox Center of L.A., you can expect our professionally trained staff to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and treatment goals.