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The Connection Between Impulsive Behavior and Addiction

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The Connection Between Impulsive Behavior and Addiction

Written by Genesis Recovery

In many ways, someone grappling with drug and alcohol addiction can be the poster child for impulsive behavior. When you have a substance use disorder, you may lie, steal, cheat, and react to situations on a whim. Addiction can also cause you to consume drugs and alcohol without considering the consequences. In addition to that, addiction can trick your brain into seeking out immediate rewards, such as addictive substances, rather than delayed gratification. This, in turn, encourages more impulsive behavior, which can cause addiction to become a chronic condition. Luckily, understanding the connection between impulsive behavior and drug addiction can help make the behavioral techniques taught in addiction treatment programs more effective.

What Is Impulsive Behavior?

Impulsive behavior is any action taken, urge followed, or desire satisfied without thinking, reflecting, or considering the consequences. Impulsive behavior is usually driven by a need to feel pleasure and is often uncontrollable. People struggling with addiction challenges understand impulsive behavior more than most. What starts out as a single night of fun, the use of prescription medication, or a coping mechanism becomes an uncontrollable compulsive habit driven by impulsivity.

Even though impulsive behavior can seem to happen out of nowhere, in reality, there are 5 stages of impulsivity:

  1. The compelling urge or desire
  2. Failure to resist the urge
  3. A heightened sense of arousal
  4. Succumbing to the urge, which provides temporary relief
  5. Remorse or feeling guilty after the behavior is over

These stages describe the daily life of individuals dealing with addiction, hinting at the connection between impulsive behavior and substance use.

How Are Impulsive Behavior and Addiction Connected?

man impulsively taking drugs

Addiction is both impulsive and compulsive, but the earliest phases of addiction are driven by impulsivity. Substances such as drugs and alcohol change the brain, causing people to uncontrollably act on powerful urges, which is the root cause of addictive behavior. Functional changes in the brain’s prefrontal cortex reveal a lot about the connection between impulsive behavior and addiction.

Addiction Can Develop from Impulsive Behavior

Most people know that addiction results from an inability to control impulsive behavior. However, very few people understand how changes to the brain’s prefrontal cortex can trigger impulsive behavior. The prefrontal cortex, also known as “the thinking brain,” helps you make rational, logical, and sound decisions. This part of the brain also helps you override impulsive urges. Stress and drug and alcohol use weaken the prefrontal cortex, making you more likely to act impulsively. Continued impulsive behavior, especially when left untreated, can develop into an addiction.

Addiction Thrives on Impulsive and Compulsive Behavior

As addiction progresses, a shift happens. The same impulsive behavior that seemingly helped you satisfy your need for pleasure now works against you to keep you addicted to drugs or alcohol. But as you continue to satisfy impulsive urges, the need for drugs and alcohol becomes compulsive. In other words, the motivation for using drugs and alcohol shifts from pleasure to warding off negative feelings such as discomfort, pain, or anxiety. Ironically, compulsively using substances can cause more impulsive behavior.

Addiction Can Cause Impulsive Behavior

When you’re grappling with drug or alcohol addiction, your behavior can be impulsive. You may lie, steal, and neglect responsibilities without thinking or considering who you’re hurting. You might even spend your or others’ money without considering the repercussions. When you’re high on drugs or under the influence of alcohol, you may respond to situations impulsively. You might start a fight, drive while intoxicated, have unsafe sex, use multiple substances at a time, or overdose. Other examples of impulsive behavior triggered by addiction can include:

  • Manipulation
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Lying about pain or injuring yourself to get prescription drugs
  • Forging and stealing prescriptions
  • Shoplifting valuable items to pawn or sell
  • Doctor shopping
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on drugs and alcohol

Luckily, you can learn how to control your impulses and exhibit self-control in addiction treatment programs. Here’s how impulse control can help.

Learning Impulse Control In Addiction Treatment

When you’re struggling with addiction challenges, overcoming impulsive behavior may feel like an impossible task. The good news is that addiction treatment programs can provide you with several skills you can learn that will help you control those impulses. Two of the most common therapies and lifestyle practices used to control impulsive behavior include:

1. Mindfulness. In addition to strengthening the prefrontal cortex, mindfulness meditation focuses on becoming aware of the present and living an intentional, rather than impulsive or reactive, lifestyle. Mindfulness can also decrease impulsivity by:

  • Increasing awareness of your thoughts and feelings, teaching you to pause before acting impulsively
  • Helping you recognize unproductive states of mind in order to refocus the mind, providing you the opportunity to think logically and rationally
  • Increasing your awareness of distractions

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT can help you control impulsive behavior by teaching you to address and manage your thoughts in a healthy way. CBT operates on the core belief that people’s thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes shape their behavior. By learning to develop healthier thoughts and core beliefs, you’ll be better able to manage stress and anxiety, making you less likely to act impulsively and compulsively.

Combating Impulsivity Through the 12 Steps

Impulsive behavior and addiction have a lot of influence on each other, but you don’t have to let those patterns of behavior continue to control your life. Addiction treatment and rehab programs like ours at Genesis Recovery can help you get sober and regain control of your life. Our approach to treatment can be particularly helpful because it’s rooted in the 12-step program and includes other holistic and lifestyle practices that help to combat impulsive behavior.

At Genesis Recovery, you’ll find clinical support, a welcoming community, and compassionate staff members ready to help you change your life for the better. Let us help you get there. Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you or your loved one is struggling with addiction.

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