If, as adults, we find we have poor impulse control, this may be, in large part, due to the legacy of a disturbed and traumatic childhood. For example, those who have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma are more likey to suffer from conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and anti-social personality disorder (APD) than the average person and both these conditions include impulsiveness as one of the symptoms.
If a person is impulsive it means s/he often acts prematurely with insufficient planning and lack of thoughtful deliberation; importantly, too, impulsiveness (when it is pathological) involves repeated efforts to make short-term gains but at the expense of long-term gains.
Tell-tale signs that a person may be impulsive:
– frequently making inappropriate comments (speaking without forethought)
– constantly interrupting others during conversations
– often displaying impatience (e.g when having to wait in queues)
Impulse control disorders may involve:
– ‘binge’ shopping for unnecessary items (although many ‘binge’ shoppers indulge in the activity in an attempt to escape from negative emotions such as depression)
– excessive use of alcohol/narcotics (which may themselves increase impulsiveness, thus creating a vicious cycle)
– binge eating (again, though, many indulge in binge eating to overcome – temporarily, of course – negative emotions)
– dangerous risk taking (such as dangerous overtaking of other vehicles when driving)
– promiscuous, unsafe sex
The Five Main Stages Involved In Impulse Control Disorders:
Research has identified five main stages a person who has pathological problems controlling his/her impulses goes through; these are:
STAGE 1: The experience of a powerful urge
STAGE 2: A failure to resist/inhibit this urge
STAGE 3: A state of high excitement/arousal (with physical and psychological manifestations)
STAGE 4: Giving in to the urge (this usually results in a sense of deep relief from tension)
STAGE 5: Feelings of guilt for having carried out the impulsive act (this feeling of guilt may be very intense and involve profound feelings of self-disgust, self-loathing and self-hatred).
Brain Regions Thought To Be Involved In Impulse Control Disorders:
Although further research is required in order to determine with greater accuracy how certain brain regions are involved in impulse-control disorders, it is currently hypothesized that damage to both the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex may be relevant (it is also believed that these parts of the brain may be damaged by the experience of significant childhood trauma). Furthermore, it is theorized that the brain’s exexcutive function may also impaired.
Theories also exist that suggest people who suffer from impulse-control disorders are likely to have lower than normal levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in their brains.
The Possible Role Of Genes:
It is also thought that the dopamine receptor and serotonin receptor genes may be involved in impulse-control disorders which would, of course, follow from the above.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) currently seems to be the most favoured non-pharmacological method employed to address the disorder although it may also be treated with SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) anti-depressants (which should only be taken on the advice of an appropriately qualified professional).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).