According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 10.5 percent of the U.S. population has an impulse control disorder. Impulse control disorders occur when we can’t resist the urge to do something. When people with this disorder have these urges, they can’t stop their behavior, even if there are negative consequences. There are many psychiatric disorders that have these features, including substance abuse, gambling, compulsive shopping, mood disorders, internet addiction and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The urges begin with thoughts that the person can’t stop or control. For example, compulsive gamblers will have thoughts about going to a casino. Although they know they will lose money and feel guilty after gambling, they feel that they can’t stop themselves from going to the casino. Most compulsive gamblers report a feeling of excitement when they gamble; this begins a vicious cycle that is hard to break.
Certain people are at higher risk for impulse disorders than others. People who come from families with high rates of substance abuse and mood disorders are at risk. People who have low levels of serotonin in their brain are more likely to have an impulse disorder. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends information from one part of the brain to another. You can increase serotonin through exercise and eating dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are a class of antidepressants that have been found to be helpful in increasing serotonin levels and decreasing depression.
Impulse disorders are common and can be treated. Effective methods of treatment include medications, especially the SSRIs. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, is also useful. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on how our thoughts determine our feelings and reactions. Self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, ADHD and kleptomania support groups can increase a person’s chance of not returning to their old behaviors.
If you know someone who is suffering from an impulse disorder, BJC EAP can help. Our staff is available 24 hours a day to assist you. To get help, please call 314.747.7490 or toll-free 888.505.6444.