How to deal with it – Forbes Health

Engaging in risky behavior is not always a conscious choice. Impulsivity, which is a symptom of a mental health condition, can often be linked to physical differences in the brain that serve as indicators that a person may be at greater risk of acting on their impulses; however, scientists are still trying to find the exact cause.

“Impulsivity is thought to stem from altered neurochemistry in the prefrontal cortex (or prefrontal lobe) of the brain, which is located behind the forehead,” says Dr. Kelley. “This brain region is important in planning, risk assessment, motivation, and inhibition (which is not acting). Problematic neural connectivity can also underpin impulsivity.”

While researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact physiological cause of impulsive behavior, the reasons someone experiences impulsivity can vary, explains Diana Concannon, Psy.D., a forensic psychologist who serves as associate chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships. at Alliant International University. “For some, there is a genetic element that may be the result of mutations that affect the normal production of neurotransmitters involved in mood and cognition, such as serotonin and dopamine. For others, impulsivity results from learned behavior, such as not being supported to tolerate frustration, ambiguity, or ambivalence,” adds Dr. Concannon.

Certain mental health conditions more commonly associated with impulsive behavior include:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric condition that can manifest itself at inappropriate levels for the development of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. ADHD is considered a dysfunction of executive functioning, predominantly frontal lobe activity, and is associated with cognitive and functional difficulties that are related to brain abnormalities, although there are currently no standard laboratory or imaging tests. People with ADHD show difficulty with attention and focus, decision making, and emotional regulation.

Borderline personality disorder

Impulsivity, as well as difficulty regulating emotions, are two key symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD).

BPD-related impulsive behaviors tend to be more inward-directed, explains Dr. Kelley, but they can also affect relationships. Some examples of this behavior include “unstable self-image, turbulent emotions, rapid mood swings (occurring within a day), and risk of self-harm,” she continues.

Bipolar disorder

The impulsivity related to bipolar disorder, which is a mental health condition characterized by rapid mood swings, can be episodic, meaning it can occur with other symptoms several days at a time. An increase in impulsivity or inattention is also often accompanied by elevated mood, grandiosity, and other features specific to bipolar disorder.

antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder can be described as a condition involving a blatant disregard for consequences and the rights/feelings of others. People living with antisocial personality disorder often act impulsively and do not plan ahead or consider the consequences their actions will have on others.


Kleptomania is classified as a disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorder, in which a person experiences “recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or monetary value, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Stroke or brain injury

A stroke or traumatic brain injury can create sustained damage that affects a person’s brain function. This damage “can impair attention span or the ability to control or regulate emotions and exercise judgment,” says Dr. Kelley. “All of these factors can lead to personality changes and impulsive behavior.”

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