Positive and Negative Consequences of Impulsivity

Several mental health disorders such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar-disorder, and impulse-control disorders include impulsivity and lack of inhibition that are commonly associated with risky behavior. Individuals with impulse control disorders, substance use disorders, and certain personality disorders are commonly linked to impulsivity. Acting before thinking about potential consequences of behavior is something that we can all do at times, especially for young people whose brains are still developing.

For those with good social skills, there may be more openness to share with others their authentic self without fear of judgment, sharing a unique view of how they see the world, and being carefree to openly express. While many children (and adults) with ADHD struggle with friendships, those with strong social skills may be the “the-life-of-the-party”. This quality can be very attractive in adulthood. Adults may be described as charismatic and charming. Those who impulsivity and disinhibition may be described as adventurous, willing to take risks, explore, and try new things. Decisions can be spontaneous which can make things feel exciting.

Considerations of functional impairment is important as impulsivity can cause significant impairment in work, school, and relationships. The downside includes the consequences of risk-taking which may include harm to relationships and financial or legal repercussions. Patterns of behavior is especially problematic.

Parents or intimate partners may take on the burdens of taking responsibility. Consider the child who gets suspended from school and loses bus privileges or a partner who is impacted by risky behaviors that impact the health of the relationship such as sexual indiscretions and foolish financial decisions. Behaviors that break the law can be quite costly.

Some examples of impulsive behaviors that are commonly addressed in therapy include binging, self-injurious behavior, reckless behavior, struggles with interpersonal boundaries, and frequent emotional or behavioral outbursts.

Therapy can be a great place for children, teens, and adults to learn individual skills to help with impulsivity. These are tailored according to developmental age and presenting concern. Some examples may include the following:

  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Increasing awareness (e.g., behavioral chain analysis, understanding others’ perspective)
  • Impulse and anger control strategies to increase self-control
  • Behavioral management techniques and parent-child sessions
  • Problem-solving (e.g., evaluating consequences of risk and reward)
  • Social skills training
  • Medication management
  • Treatment for underlying conditions such as substance use
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Identifying safe and alternative outlets to meet needs
  • Individual and/ or couples/ family therapy
  • Peer support through positive mentoring or joining a group support



Written By : Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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