Understanding the Triggers for Impulsive Behavior

Have you ever bought something you did not plan for? Of course, everyone does. Impulsivity is influenced by several human factors and can impact your life in different ways. Most discussions about impulsive behavior or impulsivity (the mental disorder) focus on the adverse manifestations of its symptoms. Humans are mostly impulsive creatures, and the majority of our decisions are based on impulses at a specific time. It may be a decision you made several years ago or a reaction you just had. Understanding impulsivity requires one first to comprehend how human impulses are triggered, how they influence decision making, and more importantly, how to control them. Here are a few insights that will increase your understanding of impulsive behavior triggers.

  1. Brain structure

Some studies indicate that brain structure can be responsible for some cases of impulsivity. Impulsive behavior comes in various forms that include compulsive shopping, antisocial personality, intermittent explosive disorder, conduct disorders, and pyromania, among others. Different parts of the brain are responsible for various functions. The limbic system, for instance, controls emotions and memory function while frontal lobes handle control and organization. Other parts of the brain deal with decision making. According to scientists, the pre-fontal cortex part is responsible for decision making, and any compromise in its structure or abnormal pressure can cause instability and impulsive behavior.

  1. Hormone imbalance

Hormones control various functions, especially in the neurotransmitter system, cell and tissue growth, emotion management, and metabolism, among others.  Stress, for instance, can result in elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn reduces testosterone and causes a myriad of mood-related issues. Hormone imbalances can result in various psychological problems, including stress, anxiety, and erratic behavior. 

  1. Genetic reasons

While more studies are required in this area, most researchers believe that genetic error in specific chromosomes (9 in particular) can alter the natural production of neurotransmitter hormones like dopamine, serotonin. These are the same neurotransmitters responsible for cognition, and mood, two factors that significantly influence impulsive behavior. The gene error can be inherited and passed along to children who may then end up having s higher risk of becoming impulsive. 

  1. Risk factors

When examining impulsivity triggers, it all boils down to risk factors that leave one susceptible to losing control over your impulses. According to studies, a combination of neurological vulnerabilities and environmental stresses can contribute to the onset of impulsive behavior. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Being male – more males have recorded impulsivity than females. Studies attribute this to testosterone levels that might increase the chances of aggression
  • Chronic drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Mental trauma, neglect, and abuse
  • Genetic predispositions
  • Exposure to violence and aggression from a young age


Impulsivity is a common phenomenon among males of all ethnicities and also affects a large number of females. Having mental issues like anxiety, stress, depression, and OCD can also leave you vulnerable to impulsive behavior.

In most cases, these types of mental issues co-exist. It is essential to seek help from professionals who have experience in psychology and mental health. Various medical and alternative treatments can control impulsivity. However, you need first to identify the triggers.