Impulsivity: How to take control of our actions

Do you constantly regret your actions? Can’t you suppress your impulses? Maybe you are an impulsive person. Find out how to detect and deal with impulsivity.

Most people think before they act. While sometimes we are driven by emotion (impulse) rather than reason (consciousness), we take stock before acting. At other times we do not give ourselves enough time for reflection, and without realizing it we are saying something or acting in an impulsive or dissolute way, which can lead us to problems on some occasions. But what do all these behaviors have in common? What leads the human being to perform them?

What is impulsive or dissolute behavior?

It is defined as compulsive behavior that a person performs without considering the consequences of it. In this way, an impulsive person can do something, for example, take drugs or eat compulsively, without reflecting on the effects of that action. The consequences can sometimes be very negative both for him and for others; however, this aspect is not considered or accepted in view of the immediate welfare produced by his impulsiveness. In this sense, all those behaviors that escape from a rational control can be impulsive.

Therefore, we could say that an impulsive person is defined as one who does actions without prevention that are usually risky and inappropriate for the situation. So much so that this impulsiveness or dissolute behavior ends up harming them both personally and professionally.

When can it be considered an impulsive disorder?

The problem of impulsive people appears when this control of impulses is scarce and they let themselves be carried away by what they feel with no control, without filters. This is when you can say that the person has an impulse control disorder.

According to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, they define this disorder as the constant difficulty or lack of resistance to committing an act that will cause harmful or detrimental consequences for the person. Although the person knows that performing the act will have negative consequences, he or she cannot avoid doing it because of his or her impulses.

This impulsive symptomatology usually follows a chronic and growing course, if not treated properly. In addition, the symptoms usually interfere to a great extent in different areas of the person’s life (economy, social relations, work, health, etc.). The disorder usually appears in adolescence and becomes increasingly severe in adulthood.

Impulsivity test: Symptoms of an impulsive person

When impulsivity develops, most people end up being affected in various areas of their lives. Despite this, they cannot control their impulsivity and that is why they develop behaviors such as those presented below.

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD)

In most cases, an impulsive personality comes from an attention deficit disorder. It is very common for people with ADHD to present impulsiveness in their actions and decisions.

  1. Bipolarity

There are some cases in which impulsivity shows one facet of bipolar disorder. In these cases, impulsive individuals should see a mental health specialist since it is a disorder that must be treated.

  1. Antisocial

When impulsive people see all the social effects of their impulsiveness, it is very common to develop antisocial thinking and isolate themselves from others. This is because they dislike it when they judge actions that have happened because of their impulsiveness.

  1. Eating Problems

Most times where impulse control in adolescents is poor, eating disorder-related problems may arise. Although it is more common in adolescence, because they are used to having low self-esteem, it can also happen where adults are the impulsive ones.

  1. Risk behaviors and addictions

Impulsivity can lead to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or substance abuse. In these cases, the physical health of the impulsive person can be very affected.

If you detect many of these symptoms in yourself, it is very likely that you have an impulsivity disorder. In these cases, it is vital to see a mental health specialist for treatment if this condition is limiting your life.

How does an impulsive person behave?

Impulsive people have the same attitude when faced with an impulse. So much so that in order to have impulse control, it is vital to know how this impulsiveness is produced.

Before the impulsive act takes place, the person feels an unrestrained desire, emotional tension, and great activation.

During the impulsive act, the person is freed, feels great relief and even pleasure in saying or doing what he wants.

After the impulsive act, the person feels bad, guilty for having acted in that way, and sorry for not having controlled what they said.

The compulsive act is usually done to relieve personal discomfort, due to lack of emotional management. For example, the person who bites his nails does it more intensely when he has a lot of work or when he has suffered a sentimental break.

Causes of Impulsivity

There is not enough evidence to know what exactly causes an impulsive disorder. Even so, psychologists have estimated some common causes of impulsive people.

  1. Biology and genetics

There are some genetic factors that can trigger you to become an impulsive person. In addition, there is a type of personality that enjoys looking for sensations that are risky. So much so that in many occasions they coincide with impulsive symptoms.

  1. Depression

People with depression may look at their impulsive behaviors for the lack of dopamine they have because of their condition. In this way, the body encourages us to perform impulsive behavior such as overeating, excessive drinking, or other reckless behavior as it finds the dopamine it needs so badly to be happy ( even if it is only for a few moments and with counterproductive effects).

  1. ADHD

People with ADHD are more likely to suffer from impulsivity. This is because of the hyperactivity they have constantly.

  1. Personality disorder

Impulsiveness is one of the most common symptoms of certain personality disorders. Among them, we can find borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder.

  1. Lack of confidence and low self-esteem

Impulsiveness is often surrounded by low self-esteem and low confidence. This is because people who feel these two complexes sometimes try to act with more confidence and control to appear in front of others. Through this, they try to avoid rejection by others.

Types of impulsivity

There are several types of impulse control disorder with which people suffer from their impulsivity. The most common types of impulsivity are the following.


It comprises the unrestrained desire to steal anything and everything, without what is stolen being something that the person needs. Even though he tries to control himself, he ends up stealing the product and later experiences a great feeling of guilt and discomfort.


It’s about the uncontrollable need to pull out hair, eyelashes, or eyebrows. When the person performs the act he feels a release and calms his anxiety. Sometimes it is accompanied by the ingestion of the hair but in other occasions, it is not.


The overriding need, in this case, is to start fires. The goal of performing this act is to feel relieved by doing so, although it can also end up with great discomfort for having caused something that you know is wrong.


With compulsive gambling, the need is to play machines. The person experiences a pleasant sensation while playing and no matter how much he tries to control his actions (since he knows that it can cause serious family, marital and economic problems) he fails in doing so.


Although the name is not very well known, it is surely the most widespread socially. It’s about the uncontrollable need to bite and even swallow your nails. Even if the person wants to stop, he surprises himself by biting his nails non-stop and cannot stop until they are completely bitten and there may even be occasions when he hurts himself.

Compulsive buying

Here, the need is to gain products that are not needed. When the person is buying he feels a pleasure that disappears as soon as he gets home, but he cannot avoid buying when he passes in front of a store.

Compulsive eating

It’s about uncontrolled food intake, not because of hunger but because you feel the need to do it just like that. The person does not stop until he has finished everything in the fridge or until he feels physically ill.

An impulsive personality can have one or more of these types of impulsivity. That is why when suffering from an impulsive disorder it is vital to go to a specialist to treat it before it can go any further.

How to control impulsivity in adults?

There are some psychological tricks with which we can get to exercise some impulse control in people with impulsivity. Although these methods can be very effective, it is always necessary to see a mental health specialist.

  1. Analyze your behavior

Realizing your actions can be a good method to combat impulsiveness and dissolute behavior. To do this, evaluate your thoughts and feelings in front of situations and try to consider each of their consequences.

  1. Replace Impulsive Behavior

If frequently you want to perform an impulsive act that is harmful to you, it is vital to replace this action with an activity that is healthier. For example, instead of eating compulsively every time you feel impulsive, try to go for a run to remedy it.

  1. Practice meditation

Meditation is a good way to realize our bodies and emotions. Therefore, this practice will help you to have more attention when these impulsive attitudes come out in your life.

  1. Do deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing not only helps us deal with stress but can also be an effective way to leave impulsivity behind. This is because through breathing we can train our consciousness and be able to detect when impulsivity arises.

Treatment of Impulsivity

There are different ways to address these difficulties, but what has been most effective is a combination of treatment between pharmacological and psychological treatment.

By one the symptoms rarely disappear, since they usually go away when the cause is worked on emotionally, and without professional help, it is usually very complicated. Sometimes the symptoms fluctuate, but this will depend on the person’s mood and external situations, not on the locus of control.

The psychological treatment will focus on detecting the dissatisfactions or what is wrong in the person’s life to work and give resources to develop without resorting to the compulsive act.

Although impulsivity can be normalized in most situations in our lives this type of attitude must be corrected in most cases. Don’t let your impulses limit your life.

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