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Impulse Control Disorders

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Impulse Control Disorders are characterized by ones lack of ability to control their actions, leading to self-destructive behavior. Those with these disorders think mainly in the short term and do not contemplate the long term ramifications of their actions. These disorders can manifest in a variety of behaviors, all of which have the potential to cause serious long term harm. Pathological gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, trichotillomania, and intermittent explosive disorder are all officially recognized impulse control disorders.

Pathological gambling

Pathological gambling is gambling that is detrimental to ones financial security, employment, family dynamic, or other relationships. Relationships with family often suffer greatly from this disorder and job loss is common because of missed days from work. Those suffering from this disorder oftentimes have to sell their personal items such as cars and houses to pay off gambling debts. Gambling addicts many times believe they have figured out aningenious way to make back their losses and this simply leads them to more monetary losses. They hide their problem from family and friends but often go to them out of desperation to borrow money to continue their pricey habit.


Kleptomania literally means “stealing madness”. Kleptomaniacs tend to steal items that are of no use to them and many times the thefts are not premeditated. Stolen goods are sometimes simply given away, thrown out, or even returned to owner. Those suffering from this disorder often steal when they are anxious or emotionally unwell. However, many times there is simply a strong urge that can only be quelled through theft. Immediately following the action, the person may feel happier or even thrilled. Later in time, the kleptomaniac often feels shame about what they have done and identifies their actions as detrimental to themselves and others.


Pyromania literally translates to “fire madness”. It is the repeated action of setting fires at random locations for one’s own amusement. The motive for the fire setting isn’t always to harm others, however harm is often a resulting factor. Pyromaniacs don’t gain anything from their destructive behavior besides a sense of accomplishment. People struggling from this disorder are usually fascinated in everything about fire. They are interested in how fires start, what they do, and how they are stopped. Many are even interested in the fire department and scan their radio so they can watch as fires are extinguished.



Trichotillomania literally means “hair-pulling madness”. Those with this disorder feel a sense of satisfaction and relief when they pull out their hair. The hair removed could be from the head, eyelashes, eyebrows, legs, arms, face, and pubic region. Many times the hair is pulled out to the point of being noticeable to others. This causes even greater discomfort for the trichotillomania sufferer. This leads to those with this disorder to go to great lengths to conceal their hair loss such as applying hats, wigs or make-up to cover the bald spots. Some may not even be aware they are pulling out their hair. Many of those with trichotillomania report that they feel bored or nervous prior to pulling out hair and after pulling it out they feel guilty, sad, or angry.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Those suffering from intermittent explosive disorder will respond aggressively towards others over relatively insignificant incidents. These attacks cause some kind of injury to the receiving party, either emotionally, physically, or to their property. The reactions of intermittent explosive disorder sufferers are over-exaggerated and out of proportion to the events that set them off.

Treatment of Impulse Control Disorders

Cognitive behavior therapy and medications are primary treatment options for those with impulse control disorders. These therapies have been particularly helpful for kleptomania, pathological gambling and trichotillomania.

12 step programs can also help those with impulsive disorders. Gamblers Anonymous has been very effective in turning many compulsive gamblers lives completely around.

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