Impulsive Behavior in Adults: Definition, Examples & Treatment Video

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  • 0:06 Impulses: Definition
  • 0:37 Impulsive Behavior
  • 1:33 Disorders
  • 2:52 Therapies
  • 3:54 Medications
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Impulsive behavior can be considered a personality quirk in someone who is simply passionate or impatient. However, there are psychological disorders where this behavior is a central feature.

Impulses: Definition

The word impulse simply means the urge to do something. An impulse can be something as simple as the need to scratch an itch. Impulses can also include more complex behavior, like checking the oil in one's automobile or making sure the coffee pot is turned off before leaving one's home. They are a normal part of human psychology. However, impulses can prove problematic at times. Some of these impulses can be symptoms of underlying mental health issues that may require professional treatment by trained counselors or psychiatrists.

Impulsive Behavior

When people describe one another as being 'impulsive,' it's rarely in reference to the normal kind of impulses we've just discussed. Typically, this term is used to refer to people that are excessively driven by impulse. Other terms used to describe these individuals may include 'passionate,' 'fickle,' or 'unstable.' Someone described with these terms may or may not have some sort of impulse control problem in the mental health sense.

In psychology, impulsive behavior is defined as a difficulty regulating some aspect of one's emotions or behavior. It often involves chemical factors that prevent individuals from reining in their behavior. Other issues may come from a failure to learn how to control oneself as a young person. We'll discuss a few of these disorders here, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Please note that these disorders have a major impact in patients' lives. They are not quirks or pet peeves.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a condition characterized by trouble focusing on tasks, physical agitation, and poor decision making abilities. ADHD is generally diagnosed in children, but adults can have the disorder as well. A person with this impulse control disorder has difficulty concentrating on demanding activities, often finding trivial things more interesting while working on important tasks. People with ADHD often make decisions at the spur of the moment, making them less likely to think things through.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by unstable emotions, unstable behavior, and problems dealing with other people. People with BPD have feelings of inadequacy, often manifesting themselves as problems with their body image. They frequently have problems maintaining relationships with others and may often argue with important people in their lives.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition characterized by uncontrollable thoughts and repetitive behaviors. People with OCD tend to focus their thoughts on one topic, often at the expense of their ability to focus on other things. These people frequently engage in behavioral rituals, such as washing their hands a certain number of times or ensuring that their homes are perfectly clean and organized.

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