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People often forget about the role of impulsivity in addiction. At West Coast Recovery Centers, impulse control is a central aspect of the recovery process.

What Is Addiction?

The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) characterizes addiction as the following.

[A] chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences [and] repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

This description is important as it shows that even when someone has successfully completed treatment, the impulsivity at the heart of addiction often leads to relapses.

What Is Impulsivity?

When someone is said to be impulsive it means that they are more easily swayed by a variety of factors. These may include:

  • Emotions
  • Involuntary urges
  • Momentary desires

They are swayed by these things in a way that does not allow them to weigh them in a rational manner. The problem is that when people are prone to impulsive behavior, they increase their potential for risk-taking. This often compromises their decision-making and, in turn, may create a loop wherein they become entrenched in even more impulsive behaviors.

The Role of Impulsivity in Addiction

One of the main issues with impulsivity in addiction is the fact that people who are able to attend treatment may find it difficult to stick to what they have learned. This is why it is important to openly discuss the concept of relapse and relapsing alongside traditional addiction therapy.  

A person may find their way to addiction due to impulsivity as their curiosity may initially get the best of them. They will try different substances simply because they are offered or seem like the cool thing to do. These individuals will not consider the fact that their behavior is self-destructive or physically harmful. In their minds, it is something they want to try.

The role of impulsivity in addiction comes when the person continues to feed their addictions because they are not thinking with their rational mind. All they know is that they want/need certain substances, and they will do whatever they need to in order to get them. This is a spiraling behavior that will not stop unless stopped by an outside source.

How Does Impulsivity in Addiction Change a Person’s Motives?

For a person with impulsivity issues, addiction is often part of a much larger problem. They may have exhibited self-destructive behaviors in other parts of their life, and addiction is simply added to the list. People with impulsivity issues often exhibit more than one, including:

  • Impulsive spending
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Reckless behavior
  • Gambling
  • Poor business decisions
  • Binge eating
  • Aggressive behavior

When more than one of these behaviors is exhibited, the odds of others appearing become even stronger.

Roots of Impulsivity in Addiction

Impulsive behavior may be a symptom of a mental health disorder or another health concern. There are a number of factors that can lead to this type of behavior.


People who have been through traumatic experiences may be more impulsive. This is due to needing an outlet for the pent-up emotions stemming from their traumatic experience(s). For example, a person who has experienced violence may feel explosive impulses to be violent toward others. They may also engage in impulsive acts that distract them from the trauma.

Family History

Genetics may also play a part in impulse control. People with a family history of impulse issues, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or manic bipolar episodes are far more likely to exhibit bouts of impulsivity.


Younger people are still growing into their minds and are more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors. The issue is that some people engage in self-destructive activities, which may compound as they grow older. Depending on these activities, they may find themselves unable to shake their impulsivity.

Substance Use

For those that engage in substance use, the odds of continuing or moving on to other substances skyrocket. A person engaged in substance use may find their mental health to be in jeopardy, leading them to risky behavior.

How Can Treatment Assist With Impulsivity?

Clients must be made aware of the fact that they have a higher likelihood of relapse due to issues with impulsivity. When they are, they have the opportunity to talk openly and honestly about what they are going through, what they will face, and how to get there.

At West Coast Recovery Centers, each individual is given their own plan of care in an effort to confront specific issues such as unique impulsivity. It is important that not only is the impulse itself addressed but that the roots of impulsivity are explored. West Coast Recovery Centers believes that the deeper one can analyze their own behaviors, the more they can confront them on their own terms. Impulsivity in addiction is one of many speed bumps to handle on the road to recovery.

West Coast Recovery Centers understands that there are multiple pieces for a person to conquer on their road to recovery. One of these is impulse control. Many people with addiction issues may find that they return to their addictions because of an inability to control their impulse to use. Our clients are taught how to recognize these impulses and how to reformat their thinking to make their way past them. These techniques are taught to all clients and are tailored to the individual. Due to the fact that each person has their own set of impulses, triggers, and needs, the idea of impulse control changes between individuals. For more information about our program, call (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
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