First of all, what is impulse control? A person suffering from an impulse disorder is usually characterized by doing impulsive actions that result in long-term damage. Some issues related to impulse control disorders would include kleptomania, or the uncontrollable desire to steal; pyromania, or unexplainable need to start a fire; pathological gambling; and dermatillomania, or repetitive skin pricking. Impulse disorder could also include disability with regards to emotional control (exhibited by symptoms such as extreme hotheadedness) and behavior control. Impulse disorder could begin in children as early as 7 years old (some of the earliest symptoms, such as for intermittent explosive disorder, is extreme and sudden anger children exhibit), and as late as during a person’s middle teens. It should be noted that as impulse control disorder is a psychiatric condition, these desires are not premeditated, and the sufferer has virtually no control over doing these highly destructive activities.
What can be done to manage impulse control disorder? First of all, it’s very important that a person seeks professional help and gets diagnosed for impulse control disorder. A diagnosis is important to help the patient and family know of the severity of the condition, and the medications and treatment that would help remedy the situation. Also, it’s possible that a person who does harmful behavior is in fact not affected by impulse disorder; for example, a shoplifter may not necessarily be a kleptomaniac.
Once the sufferer has a doctor, it is very important that he regularly consults with him and keeps the scheduled appointments. The doctor and the patient should work together to alleviate his impulse disorder.
Since impulse disorder would usually be accompanied by other psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, recommended medications are usually those that target these conditions as well. Examples of these medication include clomipramine, desipramine and doxepine for depression control; lithium for bipolar disorder; buspiridone for anti-anxiety; and fluvoxamine, paroxetine and sertraline for obsessive-compulsive disorders. SSRIs (or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are also used to treat impulse control disorders, since studies have shown that there is a strong link between impulse control and levels of serotonin in the brain.
Medication should of course be prescribed by the doctor, and must be taken during the required schedule, regardless of whether the patient is currently experiencing symptoms or not.
Some of the techniques used to help control impulse disorders include behavioral therapy and family therapy. Behavioral therapy sessions would include giving the patient a heightened sense of awareness towards the damage his actions could cause. They also let him learn techniques to block the impulses, such as listening to relaxing music, regulating his breathing, and being in public places (where there is less chance for him to do his destructive actions).
Another technique is through the practice of psychotherapy, wherein the patients are allowed to speak extensively about their feelings and emotions. This is to address the underlying stress and tension that usually accompany the impulse disorders.
Patients could also be a part of a support group. Being with other people that definitely understand what one is going through would be a boost towards healing.
There are effective techniques in dealing with impulse disorders that family members can carry out. One of these is by limiting the patient’s exposure to the object that is considered as the harmful element – for example, a person suffering from pyromania should have limited exposure to matches. But perhaps the most important thing that a family can do for a sufferer is to understand that what he is suffering from is not his fault, and that he needs to get professional help in managing his condition. During the times that he does slip and is not able to control his impulses, what he needs is reassurance and support, and not judgment.