Impulse-control disorders

Impulse-control disorders

Impulse-control disorders include a variety of conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorders and substance abuse disorders. Impulse-control disorders include conditions familiar to adolescents, including Internet and social media addiction, online pornography addiction and thrill-seeking behaviors.

The Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition—DSM 5—includes under the impulse-control disorders section such diverse conditions as intermittent explosive disorder, pyromania and kleptomania. Impulse-control disorders are characterized by five stages:

  • An impulse

  • A growing tension to satisfy the impulse

  • Pleasure from acting on the impulse

  • Relief from completing the impulse

  • Guilt from completing the impulse—this last condition is not always counted as a stage

The DSM 5 lists the following impulse-control disorders.

Internet addiction

Internet addiction is like other addictions—the difference being instead of taking something, the addict spends all his waking time online. This is not just an innocuous waste of time; online addiction can lead to online gambling and other expensive online diversions. Internet addiction affects every age group, every class and educational background.


Pyromania is a compulsion to start fires. Pyromania affects nearly three percent of the population, with males significantly outnumbering females. These individuals derive sexual satisfaction from their fires. It is not uncommon for the individual to hide in a crowd and admire his handiwork. While widely known as a disorder, the pathology behind pyromania is not entirely clear.

Intermittent explosive disorder—IED

IED is characterized by volatile episodes disproportionate to the stressor. IED outbursts are intense and can be violent. IED affects between three percent of the population monthly and nearly 11 percent throughout their life—roughly nine and a half million and 35 million people, respectively.


According to the DSM 5, the following five criteria must be present to justify a diagnosis of kleptomania:

  • Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal

  • Mounting sense of tension preceding each theft

  • Pleasure or relief at the time of committing the theft

  • Theft is not committed to express anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or hallucination

  • The theft is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder or a manic episode

Sex and pornography addiction

Individuals who are bona fide sex addicts pursue their addiction with the same grim determination as drug addicts chase heroin. A person addicted to sex does not enjoy it in any conventional sense of the word. It is an insatiable compulsion. These individuals are consumed with guilt and self-loathing.

Individuals addicted to pornography require more and more stimulation to satisfy their voyeuristic appetite. Despite Hollywood romanticizing the addiction, conversely it is about degradation and dehumanization.

An addiction to pornography typically develops during adolescence. In the past, the majority of porn addicts were male. Internet porn now draws nearly as many female viewers. Male porn addicts significantly outnumber female addicts but numbers for the latter are increasing.

Compulsive shopping

Compulsive shopping is not retail therapy. Statistics vary, but between two and 12 percent of the U.S. population qualify as shopping addicts. Many studies settle on six percent as the working number. As with other addictions, compulsive shopping has little to do with shopping and everything to do with low self-esteem. People who shop compulsively destroy their lives. They run up astonishing credit card debt. They ruin their credit. Compulsive shoppers experience an adrenalin rush prior to purchase. The exchange provides a fleeting sense of euphoria but they typically lose interest in the item the moment they purchase it.

Social media addiction

David Greenfield, Ph.D., LMFT, is the director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. Based on a nationwide telephone survey involving 1,000 people, Greenfield concluded 90 percent of Americans would fall into the category of overusing, abusing or misusing their devices. Other reports indicate some young people spend nearly 400 minutes each day on their cell phone. A person who constantly checks his Facebook page is annoying. A person who has to check Facebook or any other site in order to feel connected or grounded has a problem. For some young people, they must be tethered to social media. It provides the infrastructure for their lives.

White River Academy

Our boarding school is located near the Great Basin in Utah. We take a multi-faceted approach to substance abuse, behavioral health and mental health conditions. Impulse-control disorders are just one of many conditions we treat. We rely on traditional, unconventional and holistic therapies to find the underlying causes which fuel addiction and behavioral issues. Call 866-520-0905 to learn more about our school and programs.

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