What Is Involved in Impulse Control Disorder Treatment?

A psychotherapist might help discover the root cause of an impulse control disorder.
Antidepressants might be used to treat impulse control disorder.
The obsession with starting fires is a type of impulse control disorder.
Intermittent explosive disorder is a type of impulse control disorder.
People with impulse control disorders may engage in destructive habits.
Impulse control disorders may present in the form of shoplifting.
Talk therapy teaches the patient strategies for overcoming the urge to engage in detrimental behavior.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2015
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Specific impulse control disorder treatment will vary based on the particular symptoms an individual displays, and what may be identified as the root cause of the loss of impulse control. In most cases, it will involve a type of therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps to modify unhealthy behaviors, and break habits that may be contributing to the impulse control disorder. In many cases, medication is also required in order to treat these conditions. Though many impulse control disorders develop during the late childhood or early teen years, they can occur at any time, and are characterized by the patient feeling completely unable to control a certain behavior, even if he or she recognizes it as being detrimental.

There are a wide variety of conditions that may require impulse control disorder treatment. Certain types of obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, or addictions are common examples. Other compulsions such as stealing, setting fires, or pulling body hair, known as trichotillomania, are also often used as examples of impulse control disorders. There are a number of others, however, all of which may be diagnosed by a psychologist who will then be able to determine the most effective impulse control disorder treatment plan.


In many situations, especially more severe cases, the first step of impulse control disorder treatment is medication. Antidepressants are frequently used, though anticonvulsants may be given in some cases because they appear to help break the "craving" cycle that occurs before a person engages in a destructive behavior. Medications will need to be prescribed by a psychiatrist or a physician, not a psychologist, who is not licensed to do so. In most instances, medication alone is not sufficient, however; as a result, additional therapy is generally needed, generally based on the principles of cognitive behavior therapy.

In the talk therapy method of impulse control disorder treatment, the therapist will work one-on-one with the patient to try to determine when the behavior first began, and if a root cause can be identified. This will not be the prime focus of the treatment, however. Instead, the therapist will work to help the patient identify the "triggers" for the behavior, whether they are external forces or internal thoughts, and then teach strategies for overcoming the urge and eventually building new habits that do not involve the detrimental behavior. The key is to affect lasting behavior modification, and improve a person's quality of life so that they are no longer driven by their impulses.



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