Impulse Control Disorders And Addiction: Dual Diagnosis

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021

Substance abuse and impulse control disorders are strongly connected. Treatment for these co-occurring disorders may involve traditional substance abuse treatment services and behavioral interventions.

Dual Diagnosis Impulse Control Disorders And Addiction

Millions of adults and teenagers in the United States have a drug or alcohol use disorder. A percentage of this population also have a co-occurring impulse control disorder.

Common impulse control disorders include:

  • kleptomania
  • pyromania
  • intermittent explosive disorder

Substance abuse is similar to these disorders in that it can also become a compulsive habit, driven in part by the effects drug or alcohol abuse can have on the brain and body.

Find out more about dual diagnosis addiction and mental health disorders

What Are Impulse Control Disorders?

Impulse control disorders are broadly identified by a chronic and traceable pattern of deviant, disruptive, or volatile behaviors.

Signs of impulse control disorders include:

  • feeling sudden, powerful urges to act on impulse
  • repeatedly acting on behaviors that violate the rights of others
  • repeatedly acting on behaviors that violate societal norms
  • aggressive or volatile behavior
  • severe anxiety before acting on an impulsive behavior
  • lying or stealing
  • obsessive behavior

More specific symptoms, signs, and risk factors may vary by the type of disorder.

When Does An Impulsive Behavior Become A Disorder?

Acting impulsively does not mean a person necessarily has a mental health disorder. An impulse control disorder is characterized by a pattern of behaviors that may feel uncontrollable.

People with an impulse control disorder may:

  • repeatedly act in ways they know are illegal or harmful
  • feel guilt or remorse about their behaviors
  • have difficulty controlling their emotions or actions
  • experience severe disruptions to their way of life due to their behavior

Having this type of disorder can affect a person’s relationships, work, school, or ability to excel in various areas of their life as a result of their behaviors.

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Addiction And Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a disorder that is identified by a pattern of constant and uncontrollable urges to steal. This affects an estimated one percent or less of the U.S. population.

People with kleptomania can often feel guilty about their stealing, despite being unable to stop themselves. Substance use may become a way to manage that emotional distress.

Addiction And Pyromania

Pyromania is characterized by repeatedly setting fires on purpose. People with this disorder may be excessively fixated on fires and feel pleasure or relaxation after setting a fire.

People with pyromania may have low impulse control. This can put them at greater risk for heavy drinking, illicit drug use, or other forms of substance misuse.

Addiction And Intermittent Explosive Disorder

People with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) experience angry, aggressive, or impulsive bursts for less than 30 minutes at a time, and at least several times a month.

People with this disorder are more prone to substance abuse than the general population, with the urge to self-medicate and a lack of supportive coping skills as contributing causes.

Can Drug Abuse Cause Impulse Control Disorders?

Drugs and alcohol can affect our impulses, due to their effects on the brain. This can cause people to act impulsively and trigger aggressive or angry outbursts.

Chronic drug and alcohol abuse can have lasting changes on the brain, especially if someone begins drinking or using drugs for non-medical purposes as a child or teenager.

But it’s also common for substance abuse to develop later. Some research suggests IED, for example, is much more likely to develop before drug or alcohol addiction than after.

A person’s psychiatric, substance use, and medical history are key factors clinicians consider prior to making a formal mental health diagnosis.

Risk Factors For Those With Impulse Control Disorders

Chronic substance abuse is considered a risk factor for these disorders. But that’s not the only suggested cause. More often, it can be traced back to childhood experiences and genetics.

Risk factors include:

  • history of abuse, neglect, or trauma
  • growing up in a violent household
  • co-occurring mental illness
  • genetic predisposition

Men are also more likely to be diagnosed with impulse control disorders, although the cause of that is not entirely clear.

Rates Of Co-Occurring Addiction And Impulse Control Disorders

People who have an impulse control disorder are much more prone to substance use disorders than the general population, according to research.

What the research shows:

  • People with intermittent explosive disorder may be up to five times more likely to abuse substances such as alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana than those without.
  • Anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of people with kleptomania are estimated to have substance use issues.
  • About one-third of people diagnosed with kleptomania also have a drug or alcohol use disorder.

Treatment For Impulse Control Disorders And Addiction

Overcoming substance addiction isn’t easy, especially if you have a co-occurring disorder. For people who have co-occurring disorders, a specialty treatment program may be recommended.

Dual diagnosis programs, which integrate mental health and substance abuse treatment services, are considered the most effective type of treatment for people with co-occurring disorders.

Within a treatment program, impulse conduct disorders and addiction can be treated through individual and group therapy, behavioral therapy, and other behavioral interventions.

Find Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders Today

Finding the right treatment program for yourself or a loved one can begin with making a call to our helpline.

By calling us, we can:

  • identify your treatment options
  • discuss your or your loved one’s treatment needs
  • help you find a treatment program that’s right for you

Call our helpline today to find a dual diagnosis treatment program that’s suited to meet your personal and financial needs.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021
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