A doctor takes notes while a patients sits with their head down

For many who suffer from some form of substance abuse disorder, drugs and alcohol are not the only issue they face. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a 2014 survey by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 7.9 million people in the United States experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder (1).

Of all the millions of Americans suffering from a mental health issue, approximately 10.5% are a subtype known as impulse-control disorders. (2) Here we take a look at the relationship between substance abuse and impulse-control disorders.

What are impulse-control disorders?

Impulse-control disorders are psychiatric disorders that despite being quiteA doctor in a lab coat sits next to a diagram of the human brain common are poorly understood by the general public. Impulse-control disorders are characterized by an inability to control compulsions to engage in certain behaviors that cause financial, social, or physical harm. These disorders are believed to have both environmental and genetic origins. (3)

What are the signs and symptoms of impulse-control disorders?

Impulse-control disorders can cover a wide range of different behaviors, such as gambling, stealing, or compulsive shopping. The signs and symptoms of impulse-control disorders usually include the following (4):

  • Repetitive engagement in the behavior despite facing consequences for it
  • Loss of control over the behavior
  • Craving or fixating on the behavior prior to doing it
  • Pleasure being felt from the problematic behavior

The relationship between impulse-control disorders and addiction

Several studies have documented a strong correlation between impulsive-control disorders and the development of substance abuse disorders. (5) Having two disorders at the same time is known as comorbidity. Often times, substance abuse can actually be the result of an attempt to self-medicate symptoms of psychiatric illness.

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So what does this mean?

The reality is that many people who suffer from a substance abuse disorder will also suffer from one or more other mental health issue. This is known as dual-diagnosis. It is crucial to deal with both the substance abuse issue and the mental health issue at the same time, rather than separately.

If you or a loved one is suffering from both an addiction and mental health issues, it is crucial to find a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment.

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis
  2. https://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/ftpdir/table_ncsr_12monthprevgenderxage.pdf
  3. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/impulse-control-disorders/impulse-control-disorders-clinical-characteristics-and-pharmacological-management
  4. Grant JE, Potenza MN. Pathological Gambling: A Clinical Guide to Treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc; 2004.
  5. http://vcoy.virginia.gov/documents/collection/021%20Disruptive%20ODD2.pdf