Table of Contents:

  1. What is impulsivity?
  2. Symptoms
  3. How is it detected?
  4. Causes of impulsivity
  5. Prevention
  6. Therapeutic approach
  7. Recommendations
  8. Medical specialists

What is impulsivity?

Impulsivity is a personality trait characterized by a rapid, unexpected and excessive reaction to any situation. It is a condition in which the person cannot control the impulses, temptations or desires he/she feels and acts without taking into account the consequences of his/her actions.

In some cases, it may manifest as an isolated condition while in others it may be accompanied by other more or less related psychological conditions. Another characteristic of impulsive people is that they tend to be prone to alcohol, drugs or pharmaceuticals, increasing their aggressiveness and presenting greater problems in adapting to different situations.

This disturbance is extremely detrimental to the affected individuals, their families and the community.

There are different types of impulsivity:

  • Compulsive sexual desire: the patient feels a heightened sexual desire in terms of thoughts and behaviors, which can increase exposure to sexually transmitted infections, risks to their own safety, emotional well-being and social stigma.
  • Internet addiction: this is the most recent form of impulsivity, characterized by excessive use of the Internet, social networking platforms, gambling or pornographic sites.
  • Compulsive shopping: characterized by an irresistible urge to buy beyond economic capabilities.
  • Pyromania: an uncontrollable urge to start fires, often endangering one’s own safety and that of others.
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED): characterized by explosive, repeated and disproportionate bursts of aggression.
  • Kleptomania: an uncontrollable impulse to steal for pleasure.
  • Trichotillomania: patients experience an irresistible urge to remove scalp hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.

What are the symptoms of impulsivity?

Specific symptoms vary depending on the type of impulsivity affecting the individual, but in any case, the stages of the condition are as follows:

  • Impulse
  • Increasing tension
  • Pleasure in acting
  • Relief and guilt (may or may not be present).

Impulsive people act without thinking.

How is it detected?

It is important that the patient who suffers from the above-mentioned symptoms should see a psychologist for an evaluation of the case and to rule out the existence of other mental health disorders.

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Causes of impulsivity

Impulsivity often accompanies other disorders such as ADHD, OCD, depression or anxiety. The causes of impulsivity and why some people have this condition and others do not are not known, but it is thought to result from a combination of genetic and external factors, such as neglect from childhood abuse. The ability to control impulses is located in the frontal cortex.

In most cases, the disorder peaks in mid-adolescence.

Can it be prevented?

To prevent impulsivity it is important to control the actions of the person affected by this disorder. In this sense, it is important to learn to react appropriately to certain thoughts, emotions and feelings.

Therapeutic approach to control impulsivity

Treatments for impulsivity can be pharmacological, psychosocial or a combination of both. In any case, it is important that the patient and the specialist can work out a treatment that takes into account the context, lifestyle and needs of the patients.

Psychosocial treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Systematic desensitization
  • Aversion therapy
  • Hidden sensitization
  • Stimulus control
  • Cognitive restructuring

Recommendations for dealing with impulsivity

  • Think before acting. As already mentioned, impulsive people tend to react before weighing the consequences of their actions. Precisely for that reason, it is convenient that they carry out a process of reflection through which they try to anticipate the consequences of their behavior, allowing them to detect and reduce some of the automatic responses they are accustomed to give.
  • Tolerance to frustration. It is important to assume that we will not always receive what we expect. Therefore, we must try to reduce impulsive acts and increase our repertoire of adaptive responses to correct our emotional state.
  • Relaxation techniques. This consists of reducing physiological activation to improve reflective capacity and reduce stress and anxiety symptoms. There are many other therapeutic strategies considered effective in reducing impulsivity, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Which specialist treats it?

The specialist in charge of treating impulsivity disorders is the psychologist.