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Impulsive Behavior and BPD

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Updated March 18, 2010

Are you someone who tends to take action without thinking through the consequences? Do hasty decisions often get you into trouble? Do you often act based on your feelings in the moment rather than on a long-term plan? You may be struggling with impulsive behavior, one of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Impulsivity can be a very troubling aspect of BPD. Impulsive behavior can lead to problems with relationships, physical health, and finances, as well as legal issues. Learning more about impulsive behavior and treatments that target it can help reduce the impact of impulsivity in your life.

What is Impulsivity?

Impulsivity is a tendency to act quickly without thinking about the consequences of your actions. Impulsive behavior usually occurs in reaction to some event that has caused you to have some kind of emotional response.

For example, imagine you are waiting in line at the bank and someone cuts in front of you. If you were to act on an impulse, you might immediately behave aggressively toward that person (e.g., yelling, or even becoming violent), without thinking about the consequence of this kind of behavior (e.g., being escorted out of the bank or even arrested).

It is important to note that occasional impulsive behavior is not necessarily indicative of a diagnosis of BPD. Everyone acts impulsively from time to time. Only when this type of behavior becomes either frequent or serious (e.g., dangerous), is it considered problematic.

What are Some Examples of Impulsive Behaviors?

Some examples of impulsive behaviors include:

  • Going on spending sprees
  • Driving recklessly
  • Promiscuous sex
  • Binge eating
  • Yelling, shouting, or screaming at others
  • Threatening to harm others
  • Destroying property
  • Shoplifting
  • Getting in physical fights with people

Can Impulsivity Be Treated?

Yes. Many treatments for BPD have components that target impulsivity. For example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on building skills that will help you to reduce your impulsive behaviors.

Mindfulness, which is a skill taught in DBT, can help you to stay more aware of your actions so that you can take time to consider consequences. Mindfulness can help you to make healthier decisions about how to respond to events around you.

Medications may also help with impulsivity, but are probably most effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

If you are struggling with impulsivity, learn more about treatments for BPD that may help you get impulsive behavior under control.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed, text revision. Washington, DC, Author, 2000.

Linehan, MM. "Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder." New York: Guilford, 1993.

Moeller, FG, Barratt, ES, Dougherty, DM, Schmidt, JM, Swann, AC. "Psychiatric Aspects of Impulsivity." American Journal of Psychiatry 158:1783-1793, November 2001.

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