Impulse Control Issues In Children and Adults

Everyone experiences a little impulsivity now and again. Individuals from every area of life can get caught up on the heat of a moment and decide to throw caution to the wind and have a bit of adventure. Most people learn to control their impulsive behaviors throughout childhood. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult for people to gain control of their impulses. This is especially true for those with impulse control issues commonly seen in those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a common condition that affects children and teens and may also play a role in the behavior of some adults. Mental health researchers believe that 3 to 10 percent of children have the condition.

Children with ADHD often have difficulty concentrating or paying attention in class. They may show an inability to follow directions and become easily frustrated when given tasks to accomplish. These children usually have difficulty keeping still and constantly need to move their bodies. They may also have impulse control problems and often fail to think before they act.

When looking at the condition, symptoms are often grouped together into 3 different areas, Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Additional symptoms in all three areas include the following:


  • Easily distracted
  • Does not finish tasks
  • Forgetful about daily activities
  • Tendency to daydream
  • Appears to be ignoring those who are speaking
  • Cannot easily organize daily tasks


  • Squirms and fidgets when sitting;
  • Inability to play quietly
  • Fails to stay seated even when socially necessary or expected
  • Talks excessively


  • Shows difficulty in waiting for their turn
  • Often interrupts others
  • Blurts out answers before a question is completed

What Are the Signs of Impulse Control Issues in Children?

As with ADHD, children with impulse control issues often have difficulty waiting for things. They may jump into a game without knowing if they are welcome, they often interrupt, and they have difficulty understanding why they have to take turns. Some children may exhibit a tendency to steal as well. These children often need help from parents to stay on schedule and learn how to maintain and organize their everyday items, such as backpacks, clothing, school supplies and homework.

As children become adolescents, unless they have taken steps to learn how to handle their impulses, their impulse control issues often remain similar to those they had as a child. However, the possibilities for it to negatively affect their lives increases significantly. The condition can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, driving while intoxicated, and other risky behaviors like unprotected sex. They often seem out of control, and parents may feel like the child does not care about anything but having fun.

How Does Impulse Control Affect Adults?

Adults with impulse control issues often face many of the same challenges as children with the condition. However, their impulsivity can have a much larger impact on their ability to function in a daily capacity. Individuals with severely impulsive behaviors may be unable to hold a job, end up in jail for multiple DUIs or theft, or experience health problems from years of overindulgence and substance abuse. People with more mild issues still struggle with impulsivity, but they may have a greater hold on themselves, or may not feel the impulses as strongly as those with a more severe problem.

When both children and adults with ADHD and other impulse control problems begin to foster good habits, their situations may change and they can retake control of their lives. Substituting a healthier option as an immediate reward for the less desirable treat that is being craved can help individuals fight temptation. This includes actions as well as actual edible treats. If an person can retrain their bodies and brains to overcome their impulses, they can regain their ability to make informed, healthy decisions and bring their lives back where they want them to be.