Is There a Connection Between Impulsive Behavior and Depression?

November 24, 2021

That inner voice that guides right and wrong tries to stop you and say, “Hold on,” but you ignore it. You’ve been in this position so many times, and it never ends how you want…but this time will be different, or will it? If impulsive behavior is ruling you, instead of you it, change is possible.

Impulse is something that we do without thinking or considering the consequences of our actions. Everyone behaves impulsively at one point or another in life. But some people have a habitual way of entering into each situation without forethought or regard to how their actions or reactions will affect people and the things around them. When someone routinely disregards rules, social mores, and the feelings of others, and chooses to act and behave without heeding the results, they likely have an impulse disorder. Habitual impulsive behavior is not specific to just one mental health disorder; it can be at the heart of many mental health conditions.

What is Impulsive Behavior?

An impulse control disorder involves chronic issues with a person’s ability to control both their behaviors and emotions. Someone suffering from an impulse disorder usually has a difficult time functioning in all aspects of their life, including familial, professional, academic, social, and personal. They typically engage in behaviors that are both disruptive and have negative consequences, seemingly without learning a lesson. Even though their actions have adverse effects, they are not enough to stop the habitual behavior. Things like kleptomania, pyromania, and compulsive sexual behavior are some symptoms of an impulse control disorder.

What are the Risk Factors of Impulsive Behavior?

The inability to control one’s behaviors and emotions typically do not stem from just one single risk factor, rather a multi-factor history of experiences. Those things usually include genetics, physical, and environmental factors, which all seem to play a part.

Genetic. Those who suffer from impulse control issues usually have a close relative that also has been diagnosed with a similar mental disorder.

Physical. Some studies have indicated that there is a specific link between impulse disorder and certain brain structure abnormalities. Specific brain structures that are linked to memories, emotions and planning can lead to impulsive habitual behaviors.

Environmental. When children grow up with role models who exhibit violence, explosive behaviors, physical or verbal abuse, they are more likely to show impulse control issues. Some adolescents and children feel more in control when they engage in impulse behavior as an escape to the reality of their environment.

Young man passed out on sofa in messy room after party

What are the Signs you Might be Suffering From Impulse Control Disorder?

The symptoms of impulsive behavior can present in many different ways through cognitive, behavioral, or psychosocial avenues, and differ from one person to the next. In general, the symptoms are:


  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Stealing
  • Aggression
  • Compulsive lying
  • Playing with fire


  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intrusive or obsessive thoughts
  • Impatience


  • Periods of social detachment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation

Having little impulse control can be very isolating and lead to depression and anxiety. If those with impulse control issues are not addressed with treatment, it is not something that usually just goes away or cures itself. People who have impulse control issues tend to exhibit:

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Failure to secure career and academic goals
  • Self-injury
  • Incarceration
  • Low self-esteem
  • Risky behaviors
  • Suicidal tendencies

The Connection Between Depression and Impulsive Behavior

When someone fails to develop the ability to follow the norms and mores of society, it becomes isolating, and they tend to view themselves in a negative light. Because they do not learn from past adverse consequences that stem from impulsive behavior, they continue the same destructive behaviors that don’t get them what they want. So not only are they frustrated that their actions never lead in a positive result, they sometimes feel remorse at not being able to “fit” in. And they also tend to feel guilt at not pleasing those around them.

Many of the underlying conditions that lead to compulsive behaviors tie into depression and anxiety, and they also coincide with them. So it is difficult to say what the causation is. Still, studies do show that those who act habitually impulsive tend to have a negative view of themselves and engage in behaviors that lead to depression. They also have a higher risk of substance abuse that perpetuates depression and anxiety. And impulse disorder is also highly correlated with suicide.

What to do if you Think you Have Depression and Impulsive Behavior

If you are worried that maybe you exhibit some of the signs of impulsive behavior, take heart. There are ways to overcome your instinct to react without thinking. We all do things sometimes without considering all the potential consequences that can come from our actions.

The good news is that changing those behaviors might be as simplistic as practicing mindfulness. It can help make you aware of how your actions and acts not only influence the consequences you face but also the people around you. Taking a step back to find out what motivates you to behave in a specific way and the benefit you gain from your actions is an excellent place to start.

Hands open to the sunset, meditation, the background of the open window in the house, the silhouette of the city and the evening sun

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a way to live in the present, awakening yourself not only to your surroundings but also to other people and their emotions. Since you do not live in a bubble, all that you do affects your environment. That is why being attentive to the ripples of how your behavior affects everything is essential.

A component of mindfulness is introspection, which involves examining how the way that you behave affects others. And also, whether it benefits or hinders getting the reaction that you want. If you are experiencing depression, then more likely than not, you are not behaving in a way that is beneficial to your overall well being.

Mindfulness also involves taking a situation apart and seeing how the process goes from start to finish. Although for someone who behaves impulsively that might not come naturally, that does not mean that it is impossible. Self-monitoring and examination are two critical actions for someone who acts impulsively. When you are presented with a decision to make, either major or minor, follow these steps to gain control over your emotions and action.

Don’t React

One of the most prominent characteristics of impulsivity is a reaction. It might be more difficult,  but when you are presented with a situation where you are expected to react, don’t. Taking time to think about the consequences of your actions is critical to tame the impulsive side of yourself. It is much better to make someone wait for an answer or a reaction than to do something irrationally that will come back to bite you!

Seek Therapy

Controlling your impulsive nature is not easy; you have no doubt learned that by now! It might be that your brain simply works differently than others. But different isn’t wrong or bad. Sometimes to change ourselves to be the best version of us, it takes someone pointing out what we need to change.

Talking with a therapist is a great tool to see how you can alter your behaviors and thoughts to be more helpful for your own success. That, in turn, will make you feel better about yourself. And it will also help you reach the goals that you set out to find for yourself.

Make Goals for Yourself

Sometimes the most challenging part about changing our behavior is in the practical day to day and staying the course. If you make daily goals for yourself and stay on target, you will not only feel accomplished, which will build your confidence and self-esteem. You will find that the positive nature of your behaviors far outweighs whatever benefit you gain from your negative ones. A succession of wins will encourage and motivate you to stay on target and consider the consequences of your actions to increase the likelihood of making better and more thoughtful decisions.

Don’t Beat Yourself up

No one is perfect, and there are going to be times when you fail to exhibit the behaviors that will give you what you want. If you do mess up and have an incident where you didn’t react as you wish, consider it a learning experience, learn from it, and move forward. If you dwell in the past and your past experiences, it won’t help to climb higher.

When you do something impulsive, try to correct it. But if you can’t, don’t stay stuck in self-flogging. It will do nothing but make you seek those things that make you feel powerful and in control. And those might be the very behaviors and thoughts that perpetuate your impulsivity, to start with.

We all behave impulsively. If you notice that your behaviors and thoughts might be driving your depression, then the good news is although changing might take some real effort, it is possible. Any actions we engage in that don’t reflect well upon our self-esteem or our ego, are destructive. The key is to recognize them and change them. It won’t be easy; it is going to take some introspection and mindfulness. 

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