How Impulse Control Plays a Role in Addiction Recovery

How Impulse Control Plays a Role in Addiction Recovery

When you’re on the path to addiction recovery, you begin to learn the variety of ways that addiction influences and affects your mind and body. When you have an active addiction, you’re more likely to do things and say things that you wouldn’t while sober. For example, during your active addiction, you probably lied to your friends and family about your substance abuse. You might have avoided them or even stolen from them in the name of feeding your addiction. As you recover, you begin to learn how strong the hold of addiction is and how it negatively affects impulse control.

What Is Impulse Control?

Very simply, impulse control is the ability to control your impulses. Perhaps you’ve heard sayings like “think before you act” or “think before you speak.” This is a type of impulse control. Instead of impulsively doing whatever you have the urge to say or do, you can press pause and rethink it. However, people with impulse control disorders have difficulty doing this. In fact, a feeling of tension begins to build up as the impulse gets stronger. Eventually, they have to act on it in order to relieve the tension. The impulse could be many different things, including gambling, sex, shopping, substance abuse, eating and much more. Even though addiction is a brain disease, the urge to drink or do drugs has to come first. It’s not a surprise that addiction and impulse control disorders often go hand in hand.

Addiction and Impulse Control

People often view those who engage in substance abuse as lacking willpower or self-control. On the surface, lacking impulse control would seem to fit in with this description. However, impulse control is a result of brain chemistry. People who have certain types of brain chemistry are more susceptible to abusing substances or using them in the first place. For example, experts have found that people with behavioral addictions like gambling or sex have abnormal chemistry in their brain’s reward processing center. This is why people with substance use disorders and people with process addictions often have genetic similarities. Does a lack of impulse control lead to addiction? The answer is more complex than it would seem.

Recognizing Impulse Control Problems

Impulse control problems typically show up in the following ways:

• Behavioral symptoms like lying, stealing and aggression
• Emotional symptoms like low self-esteem, mood shifts, guilt and wanting to isolate
• Mental symptoms like irritability, anger problems, focus problems and obsessive behaviors

People who have issues with impulse control feel a buildup of tension until they must act on whatever impulse they have. Once they act on their impulse, they feel some relief. The problem is that the impulse will eventually come back. This is one of the ways that addiction develops. The primary risk factors for an impulse control disorder include the following:

• Being male
• Genetic predisposition
• Trauma or abuse
• Exposure to violence

Various mental health disorders like depression, OCD and PTSD can also raise the risk for developing impulse control disorder. These same mental health issues also raise the risk of developing an addiction.

Stopping Is Not A Solution For Addiction

It’s common for people to ask why an addicted person doesn’t just stop whatever they’re addicted to. However, as you can see with impulse control, the brain has been rewired and co-opted to be unable to resist certain impulses and urges. No one ever sets out to become addicted to something. It happens through a series of uncontrollable impulses that eventually becomes an addiction. It might start with an uncontrollable urge to drink or try drugs and it progresses from there. The same thing can happen with addictive behaviors like gambling or sex.

Addiction Recovery and Impulse Control

As uncontrollable impulses are strongly related to addictive behavior, it’s no surprise that focusing on self-control is a big part of recovering from addiction. You can think of dealing with urges and impulses like learning how to skate or play an instrument. You start as a beginner and work on behaving differently. You consistently practice ways to control your impulses as you go through recovery. It probably won’t be comfortable at first, and you’re likely to feel incompetent or not up to the task. However, it’s important to remember that self-control is a skill. Just like some people are naturally good at skating or playing instruments, some people are naturally good at controlling their impulses. But, that doesn’t mean that people who aren’t naturally good at it can’t learn.

How To Stall, Distract and Resist Impulses

During addiction treatment, you might learn the stall, distract and resist method of controlling impulses. When you have an urge or craving, the first step is to stall yourself on acting on the urge. This gives the urge a chance to subside. However, as previously mentioned, people who lack self-control often become tense and stressed when they can’t act on their impulses. The next step then is to distract yourself. This can take many forms. You can physically remove yourself from whatever is causing the craving, or you can move onto something else that requires your whole focus. For example, exercising or making a phone call.

How To Build Better Self-Control

Learning self-control is like learning a new skill. Like any new skill, you can develop it better by building a foundation of actions and practices to help you learn. Take a look at the following list for building self-control while recovering from addiction:

• Keeping a positive attitude
• Setting definable and reachable goals
• Monitoring your progress towards these goals
• Visualizing the rewards of reaching your goals
• Avoiding triggers
• Practicing willpower
• Understanding that each milestone makes the next a bit easier

Another method for resisting triggers and impulses to develop better self-control is making if-then goals. For example, “If I go to a party where there’s drinking, then I will immediately turn around and leave.” An if-then goal is where you give yourself a theoretical situation and then establish your response to it.

As you get further down the path of recovering from addiction, you’ll likely face the potential of relapse and be tasked with preparing yourself to encounter triggering situations. Learning ways to stall, distract and resist these triggers not only helps your path to sobriety but also your development of better self-control.

Learning self-control isn’t the same thing as recovering from addiction, but it is an essential part of sustained recovery. There’s no single step or method to learning better self-control. Like any skill, it’s something that has to be continuously worked on and practiced until it becomes second nature.

As a dual diagnosis treatment center, New Method Wellness specializes in treating substance abuse disorders alongside mental health disorders. We provide long-term recovery support and programs for extended care as well. Contact us today to find out more about our services.

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