Impulsive behaviour refers to taking action at the spur of the moment. This can have serious implications in your daily life.

Every action has a reaction. But impulsivity or impulsive behaviour is when we act on something without thinking it through! It can be expressed through actions or words. For example, we may react to something at once, such as blurting out something to someone, or act impulsively such as overindulging in things like shopping or eating. Impulsive behaviour often comes with its side effects as the consequences of our actions or words surface later. Read on to learn more about impulsive behaviour and how to avoid it in our daily lives.

What is impulsivity or impulsive behaviour?

Impulsive behaviour refers to actions that are performed without forethought or consideration of the consequences. The International Journal of High-Risk Behaviors and Addiction defines impulsivity as a rash response where you act in the spur of the moment, don’t focus on the task at hand and lack proper planning. It may involve an action without thinking and quick decision-making. “It involves a lack of self-control and an inability to delay gratification or resist temptations. Individuals displaying impulsive behaviour often act on whims or sudden urges rather than through a planned, deliberate process,” says psychiatrist Dr Ajit Dandekar.

Impulsive behaviour can manifest in various ways, such as making hasty decisions, engaging in risky activities, or expressing emotions intensely and spontaneously. The behaviour can range from relatively minor actions, like impulsive shopping, to more significant and potentially harmful behaviours, such as substance abuse or unsafe sexual practices, explains Dr Dandekar.

Is impulsive behaviour a disorder?

While impulsive behaviour itself is not classified as a standalone disorder, it is a significant symptom in various psychiatric and behavioural conditions, states The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Disorders where impulsivity is a prominent feature include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and Impulse Control Disorders (ICDs) like Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Kleptomania. “Additionally, impulsivity is a common aspect of substance use disorders and can be a symptom in mood disorders such as Bipolar Disorder during manic episodes. Impulsivity in these contexts is often pathological and contributes to the distress and functional impairment associated with these conditions. Epilepsy can also cause impulsive behaviours,” explains Dr Dandekar.

Also Read

Acrophobia: 6 effective tips to help you overcome the fear of heights
A depressed woman looking at pills
Substance abuse victims have a more tendency to develop impulsivity. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Symptoms of impulsive behaviour

Symptoms of impulsive behaviour can vary, but typically include the following:

  • Difficulty and delay in gratification
  • Propensity for immediate reaction to stimuli
  • Engaging in actions without considering potential negative outcomes
  • Emotional instability, such as sudden outbursts of anger or frustration
  • Struggle with planning and organisation of activities, leading to spontaneous decision-making that may seem reckless or irresponsible
  • Problems with sustaining attention
  • Frequent changes in activities or interests
  • Challenges in maintaining relationships due to unpredictable or volatile actions.

Factors that cause impulsive behaviour

The causes of impulsive behaviour are a combination of genetic, neurobiological, psychological, and environmental factors.

1. Genetic Factors

A family history of impulsivity or related disorders like ADHD and mood disorders can predispose individuals to impulsive behaviour.

2. Neurobiological Factors

Several abnormalities in brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system, which are responsible for our actions and emotional regulation, can contribute to impulsivity. Dysregulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin also plays a role, states this study, published in Philosophical Transactions.

3. Psychological Factors

Low self-esteem, high levels of stress or anxiety, and poor coping mechanisms can increase the likelihood of impulsive actions as individuals may act out to manage or escape their emotional states. A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence suggests that adolescents showcasing aggression, and self-harm have high levels of impulsive behaviour.

4. Environmental Factors

Factors such as childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect, as well as exposure to inconsistent or chaotic environments, can lead to difficulties in impulse control. Peer influence and societal pressures may also encourage impulsive behaviours.

5. Substance use

The use of alcohol and drugs can impair judgment and increase impulsivity. A study, published in Addictive Disorders and their Treatment, states that impulsivity is a factor in the initiation and maintenance of substance use disorders as well. It is seen that individuals who are battling substance abuse have higher impulsivity.

A woman looking out at the sea
Impusivity or impulsive behaviour should be taken seriously if it hampers your daily relationships. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Risk factors for impulsive behaviour

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing impulsive behaviour:

  • A family history of impulsivity or related disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bipolar Disorder, or substance use disorders can predispose individuals to similar issues.
  • Mental health such as ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders can increase impulsivity.
  • Regular misuse of alcohol, drugs, or even certain medications can worsen impulsive tendencies.
  • Experiencing trauma or abuse, especially during childhood, can impair the development of impulse control mechanisms.
  • Ongoing stress from personal, professional, or financial issues can hamper decision-making abilities and increase impulsive actions.
  • Poor social support networks can contribute to difficulties in managing impulses due to isolation and the lack of positive role models or guidance.

When to see a psychiatrist?

Seeing a psychiatrist is advisable when impulsive behaviour becomes chronic and leads to significant distress or impairment in personal, social, or occupational functioning. “This includes when impulsivity results in harmful actions, such as self-harm, substance abuse, or dangerous risk-taking activities,” explains Dr Dandekar. Additionally, if impulsive behaviour is accompanied by other symptoms like mood instability, severe anxiety, or depressive episodes, you need to go to the doctor.

Also, it is important to seek professional help with people observe that their impulsivity interferes with their ability to maintain relationships, manage responsibilities, or achieve long-term goals.

How to treat impulsive behaviour?

The treatment of impulsivity or impulsive behaviour can include various behavioural therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This can help individuals develop better impulse control by helping them identify triggers and practice alternative coping strategies.

Some medication may be prescribed for underlying disorders, including stimulants for ADHD, mood stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for mood and anxiety disorders, explains Dr Dandekar.

Lifestyle changes such as stress management techniques, regular exercise, and healthy sleep patterns can support overall treatment effectiveness. Substance abuse also needs to be treated while treating impulsivity.

How to lead a healthy life if you are impulsive?

Leading a life with impulsivity requires a structured and mindful approach to manage and mitigate its impact. Some tips can help you:

  • Establishing a routine with regular activities and responsibilities. This can help provide stability and prevent spontaneous, impulsive actions.
  • Practising mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises can enhance self-awareness and improve impulse control.
  • Setting clear boundaries in your personal and professional relationships can also help you avoid situations that can lead you to be impulsive.
  • Therapy sessions as well as support from support groups, or professionals can provide guidance and accountability.
  • Healthy Habits like regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can improve overall mental health and reduce impulsivity.


While impulsive behaviour is not a disorder, it is part of many other mental disorders and needs to be taken seriously. Impulsivity refers to the actions, in words or physical actions, that are taken without proper planning or consideration. If your impulsive actions are coming in the way of your daily relationships, then it is important to seek professional help.

Leave A Reply