The Importance of Controlling Impulsivity during Addiction Recovery

The term “impulsive” is commonly used to describe someone who makes hasty decisions without much forethought or consideration for consequences. Individuals who struggle with impulse control tend to act on a desire for immediate rewards and often exhibit an inability to delay gratification. Impulsivity can be the impetus for someone deciding to just unwind with a few drinks. And then it can prove even more problematic when the lack of impulse control and reduced inhibitions associated with substance use then leads that individual to ignore the consequences of drinking or using drugs.

The Importance of Controlling Impulsivity during Addiction Recovery:

The addiction/impulse control connection

Like a number of behavioral and mental health issues, there’s frequently a link between a lack of impulse control and addiction. Many individuals with significant impulse control challenges will often try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, which can eventually lead to a substance use disorder. Determining the root cause of the addiction – whether the lack of impulse control or the substance use disorder – can be a complicated question. 

What drives addiction impulsivity?

One sibling study by researchers from the University of Cambridge suggested a possible genetic predisposition to impulsivity that may put someone at a higher risk of developing an addiction. While the study didn’t definitively answer which comes first, addiction or impulse control issues, in theory, the findings note a potential long-term benefit associated with identifying impulsive individuals. By helping them develop skills and healthy coping mechanisms, therapists could potentially reduce their risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life.

Another interesting clinical study published in 2014 described impulsivity as a behavior that both amplifies the risk of drug and alcohol use and also occurs because of the substance use. Specifically, the research noted that “impulsivity and/or poor impulse control … could be linked with heightened probability of initiating drug use, of rapidly escalating drug use, of failing to cut down on drug use once it becomes problematic and of relapsing despite motivation to remain abstinent.” Therefore, the best addiction recovery therapists are well trained to identify impulsive behaviors and help those in treatment choose healthier ways to respond to these impulses.

Changing behavior changes the brain

Cella Olmstead, a researcher with Queen’s University in Canada, found encouraging evidence that not only can behavioral training help individuals learn to better control their impulses, but it can actually result in physiological changes to the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control. This finding gives hope to those with substance use disorders who might have long felt that overcoming the urge to drink or use drugs was a hopeless endeavor.

Drug Treatment Centers in Colorado

While there’s no quick cure for either addiction or impulse control disorders during addiction recovery, there are effective treatments available at our Colorado drug treatment center. Typically a substance addiction therapy approach that combines medication with counseling that includes cognitive behavior therapy yields positive results. Trained addiction counselors can also help individuals with impulse control issues improve their skills in assessing potential risks and rewards tied to their actions. And to improve the chances of lasting sobriety, it’s critical that those in need of help look for therapists or a center that will simultaneously treat both the mental health concerns as well as the addiction.

If you have questions about addiction or rehabilitation and love the great outdoors of Colorado, our substance addiction therapy team at Choice House, a Colorado drug treatment center, are here to answer your questions.

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