Engaging in risky behavior is not always a conscious choice. The impulsivity that is a symptom of a mental health condition can often be linked to physical differences in the brain that act 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 be caused by a neurochemical disturbance in the prefrontal cortex (or prefrontal cortex) of the brain, which is located behind the forehead,” says Dr. Kelly. “This area of the brain is important in planning, risk assessment, stimulation and inhibition (which does not work). Problematic neural communication may also enhance impulsivity.”
While researchers are still trying to determine the exact physiological cause of impulsive behavior, the reasons why a person experiences impulsivity can vary, explains Diana Concannon, a forensic psychologist who serves as associate dean for strategic initiatives and partnerships at Alliant International University. “For some, there is a genetic component that may be caused by mutations that affect the normal production of neurotransmitters associated with mood and cognition, such as serotonin and dopamine. For others, impulsivity results from learned behavior, such as lack of support to tolerate frustration, ambiguity or inconsistency,” adds Dr. Concannon.
Some of the more common mental health conditions associated with impulsive behavior include:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) It is a psychological condition that can manifest at developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. ADHD is an executive dysfunction, often frontal lobe activity, associated with cognitive and functional difficulties related to brain abnormalities, although there is no current standard laboratory or imaging test. People with ADHD show difficulty with attention, focus, decision-making, and emotional regulation.
borderline personality disorder
Impulsivity, as well as difficulty regulating emotions, is a major symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD).
The impulsive behaviors associated with BPD tend to be inward-looking, Dr. Kelly explains, but they can also affect relationships. Some examples of this behavior, she said, include “unstable self-image, turbulent emotions, rapid mood swings (occurring within a day) and risk of self-harm.”
The impulsivity associated with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterized by rapid mood swings, can be episodic, meaning it can occur with other symptoms for several days at a time. Increased impulsivity or inattention is often accompanied by elevated mood, grandiosity, and other features of bipolar disorder.
antisocial personality disorder
antisocial personality disorder It can be described as a condition involving a blatant disregard for the consequences and the rights/feelings of others. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder often act impulsively and do not plan ahead or think about the consequences their actions will have on others.
Kleptomania is classified as an impulse and behavioral control disorder, in which the person experiences a “recurring failure to resist impulses to steal things that are not necessary for personal use or their monetary value, according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
Stroke or brain injury
A stroke or traumatic brain injury can lead to ongoing damage that affects a person’s brain function. This damage “may alter attention span and/or ability to control or regulate emotions and exercise judgment,” says Dr. Kelly. “All of these factors may lead to personality changes and impulsive behavior.”