The Link Between Impulsivity and Addiction

The Link Between Impulsivity and Addiction

Addiction is a complex and chronic disease that affects millions of people every year. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 48.7 million people struggled with addiction in 2022.[1]

If you have a substance use disorder, you know how hard it can be to stop using drugs or alcohol. The desire to consume substances is so strong that you often do not think about the consequences you could experience. The act of abusing drugs becomes impulsive itself.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What impulsivity means
  • How addiction is connected to impulsive behavior
  • Which mental health conditions cause you to act impulsively
  • How certain mental illnesses relate to addictive behavior

What Does “Impulsivity” Mean?

Impulsivity is a term that describes a type of behavior where you have a hard time controlling your urges. If you behave impulsively, that means you are acting on your thoughts before you consider the consequences you could experience. According to experts, impulsivity involves acting on the spur of the moment, not planning or thinking carefully, and having no regard for the long-term consequences of a behavior.[2]

Signs that you are impulsive include:[3]

  • Interrupting people when they speak
  • Experiencing irritability and anxiety
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Blurting out your thoughts at inappropriate times
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts
  • Frequent emotional outbursts
  • Social isolation
  • Oversharing with others
  • Having a hard time with patience
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like unsafe sex, overspending, binge eating, self-harm, or substance abuse

While young children and teenagers might naturally have problems with impulse control, sometimes it continues into adulthood. When you are unable to control impulsive behavior past the age of development, this is when it is a cause for concern. Impulsivity can lead to dangerous behaviors, including substance abuse.

Understanding the Connection Between Impulsivity and Substance Abuse

Addiction is a complex condition and there are many contributing factors to the development of substance abuse. For example, it is common to deal with underlying mental health conditions that lead to self-medication through drugs and alcohol. Some mental health conditions can increase impulsivity, so you might already be susceptible to impulsive behaviors before you even pick up a drink or a drug.

Substance abuse, by nature, is impulsive. When addicted, one disregards consequences, focusing solely on short-term benefits. Repeated substance abuse can damage several regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that is responsible for executive functioning, including controlling impulses. Damage to the prefrontal cortex from substance abuse can lead to increased impulsivity.[4] If you struggle with impulsivity, your prefrontal cortex might be thicker than a neurotypical person.

Do Mental Health Conditions Lead to Impulsivity?

Many mental health conditions can lead to symptoms of impulsive behavior, including[5]

  • Impulse control disorders like kleptomania or compulsive gambling
  • Personality disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Mood disorders like major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Anxiety conditions

While each of these conditions has different symptoms, they all overlap when it comes to impulsivity. For example, someone with bipolar disorder is more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors like risky sex or substance abuse. On the other hand, those with ADHD might have a hard time interrupting others.

Overcoming impulsivity can be difficult, but mental health and addiction treatment programs can help you recover. Whether your impulsivity is linked to a substance use disorder or a mental illness, behavioral therapy, and long-term support can make a huge difference in your life.

How is Mental Illness Linked to Addiction?

If you have a mental illness that causes impulsive behaviors, you are more likely to develop an addiction than the average person. Having a mental illness and a substance use disorder is known as experiencing co-occurring disorders. According to SAMHSA, 21.5 million adults struggle with co-occurring disorders in the United States.[6]

Bipolar disorder is highly connected to impulsive behaviors. If you have this condition, you are more likely to suffer from addiction because of symptoms of impulsivity. At least 40% of people with bipolar disorder experience some form of substance abuse.[7]

Even further, eating disorders are impulsive behaviors at heart. The act of eating in excess or restricting one’s weight is an impulsive behavior. People with eating disorders are more likely to struggle with addiction, with rates of 60% experiencing substance misuse.[8]

Find Help for Impulsive Behavior and Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with comorbid impulsivity and addiction, it’s time to seek professional help. Once you complete a drug addiction treatment program, you might need support transitioning back into everyday living. This is where New You Sober Living comes in.

At New You Sober Living, we will provide the tools and support you need to be successful in your sobriety. We offer a safe space to live away from substance abuse, structured daily routines, and peer support.

Contact us today for more information on how we can help you maintain long-term sobriety.


  1. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): HHS, SAMHSA Release 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Data
  2. Impulsivity: A Predisposition Toward Risky Behaviors
  3. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Impulsivity Symptoms as Core to the Developmental Externalizing Spectrum
  4. Australia’s Brain Injury Organisation: Impulsive Behavior
  5. [Impulsivity and mental disorders]
  6. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Health Conditions
  7. The prevalence and significance of substance use disorders in bipolar type I and II disorder
  8. Cambridge University: Patterns of Comorbidity of Eating Disorders and Substance Use in Swedish Females
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