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What are the Different Types of Impulse Control Disorders?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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It’s important to understand how the types of impulse control disorders are defined. In psychiatric and mental health medicine, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines which conditions relate to poor control of impulses. These definitions can leave out some illnesses defined elsewhere in the text or that might only have impulse control issues as a feature. The principal types of impulse control disorders as defined by the DSM are pyromania, kleptomania, intermittent explosive disorder, trichotillomania, pathological gambling, and the catch-all final type named "not otherwise specified."

Any impulse disorder may be defined as the inability to control behavior of certain sorts, even when that behavior hurts the person or harms others. Trichotillomania is an example of a behavior that most harms the individual. In this condition, people pluck their own hair, often leaving bald patches or the absence of eyelashes and brows. The urge to do this overrides the fact that the behavior often leads to personal embarrassment, and may additionally cause permanent hair loss or damage to the skin. Over time, people with this disorder may be helped through special counseling, though the disease becomes much harder to treat in adults.

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Another of these disorders is kleptomania, which is the urge to steal things from stores or other locations. Compulsive theft certainly risks the reputation of the person and might result in jail time. Pyromania has this dual potential for harm too, as people who feel constant compulsion to set fires may hurt or kill themselves and others. Pathological gambling can be harmful to the gambler and any family members from whom the gambler might take money, with or without permission. Some compulsive gamblers have lost their families' life savings and decimated their own finances.

Intermittent explosive disorder, sometimes also called rage disorder, is a condition where people have extreme and over the top angry and violent reactions to situations. This might result in physically harming others, destroying property, or trying to hurt something or someone. It is usually diagnosed in the absence of other conditions like depression or substance abuse, and it may occur in teens and adults, and occasionally children.

In the category of not otherwise specified, some impulse control disorders include sexual addiction, compulsive shopping, or repeated self-mutilation (cutting or other injury). Many people wonder where other addictive behaviors, such as some forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, or the tendency toward pedophilia, are defined in the DSM. These disorders do involve problems controlling impulses, but they get defined under different headings in the DSM.

There are many psychiatric conditions that might create poor impulse control, like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. These are defined as separate diseases that have impulse control components, however. Separate sections of the DSM that may deal with impulse control in a less direct way include those areas that cover substance abuse and eating disorders, and conditions like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or paraphilias like pedophilia.

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