Impulse Control Disorders Diagnosis

Though many people are reluctant to talk about mental health problems, these challenges are very common. According to the World Health Organization (2004), mental disorders, including impulse control disorders, are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada.

More than one out of every four Americans age 18 and older will experience a diagnosable mental illness each year, as reported by the National Institute for Mental Health (2010).

Those seeking relief from mental disorders have a number of different treatment options, including various forms of therapy and medication. Most often, the road to recovery starts when a patient receives a diagnosis from a mental health professional.

Diagnoses are based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Published by the American Psychiatry Association, this essential reference work covers all known mental illnesses in children and adults, as well as possible causes, statistics and treatment options for each condition.

Diagnosing Impulse Control Disorders

The key ingredient for an impulse control disorder diagnosis is the repeated failure to resist an impulsive act that may be harmful to the individual or others.

Does this mean anyone who’s had a brush with road rage or felt strangely drawn to an expensive pair of shoes should wonder if she’s on the way to an impulse control disorder diagnosis?

Usually not. Impulse control disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorders, are at the clinical end of a continuum of behavior. Just like everyone who alphabetizes their CDs isn’t ready for an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis, playing with your hair when you’re stressed out doesn’t mean you have an impulse control disorder.

The DSM-IV recognizes impulse control disorders as psychiatric disorders, and the standards are strict and specific for each of the six different recognized categories of impulse control disorders.

Although these criteria are distinct, impulse control disorders often occur simultaneously with other mental disorders. Common impulse control disorder co-morbidities include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse.

After an Impulse Control Disorder Diagnosis

After a mental health professional confirms an impulse control disorder diagnosis, patients can work with this specialist to overcome challenges and develop a treatment plan, which may include cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, support groups and/or medication. Selective-serotonin uptake inhibitors have shown particular promise in some cases.


AllPsych Online. (2004) Psychiatric disorders. Retrieved July 12, 2010, from

Hucker, S. J. (2005). Impulse control disorders. Retrieved July 12, 2010, from

National Institute for Mental Health. (2010). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from