Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Impulse Control Disorders

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Impulse Control Disorders



Impulse control disorders (ICDs) are extreme urges and failure to resist acting on them.

ICDs can involve:

  • Outbursts of physical or verbal rage—intermittent explosive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct disorder (CD)
  • Stealing—kleptomania
  • Setting fires—pyromania
  • Uncontrolled use of the Internet, which may serve as an outlet for other ICDs

ICDs can make daily life difficult. They cause problems with school, work, and relationships. They often involve problems with money and the law.


The cause of ICDs is unknown. It may be caused by changes in an area of the brain called the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe of the brain controls impulses.

The Brain.

Brain Man Facehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=69826982brain_man_sketch.jpgBrain Man FaceNULLjpgBrain Man FaceNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\brain_man_sketch.jpgNULL112NULL2008-02-264003006982_948959Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

ICD is more common in those who:


ICDs can start at any age. Many start during childhood or the teenage years. Symptoms are based on the type of ICD.

Symptoms of ICDs may be:

  • Injuries from fights or burns from starting fires
  • Lying or stealing
  • Irritability, impatience, or anger
  • Problems with family, partners, or spouses
  • Repeated problems with people, school, or work
  • Problems with money or the law, which may involve being arrested

People with ICDs tend to feel:

  • Growing tension before the act
  • Pleasure or euphoria during the act
  • Relief after the act—there may or may not be feelings of guilt or distress


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions may be asked about problems and mental health concerns. It is important to be open and honest with the doctor. The answers can help to make a diagnosis and guide treatment.


Treatment can help to manage symptoms. The exact plan will be based on individual needs. Steps may include:

  • Medicine—to ease symptoms. Treatment may include more than one type of medicine. It may take some time to find the right mix of medicine.
  • Therapy may be done alone or in a group. It will help to cope with problems linked to ICD. Medicine may also ease reaction to urges. There are many types of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family therapy are some options that may be used for ICD.


There are no guidelines to prevent ICDs.





  • Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. EBSCO DynMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/behavioral-and-psychological-symptoms-of-dementia.
  • Impulse control disorders and substance use. American Addiction Centers website. Available at: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/co-occurring-disorders/impulse-control-disorder.
  • Ploskin D. What are impulse control disorders? Psych Central website. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-impulse-control-disorders#1.
  • Schreiber L, Odlaug BL, Grant JE. Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:1.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.