Blog | Alcohol Addiction

Impulsivity in Alcohol Addiction Treatment: Control the Urge to Drink

Past studies have shown that issues of impulsivity are often problematic for alcoholics, but according to a new study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a number of psychosocial factors may play a part in the development of impulsivity.[1]

It was noted that alcoholics who have experienced at least one of the following issues were more likely to exhibit more severe impulsivity:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Less social support
  • More severe drinking habits or earlier drinking

The more intense the above issues and/or the more of these issues experienced by a patient, the more likely they were to struggle with impulsivity.

Why does this matter? The ability to control impulsive behavior is key to alcohol addiction treatment. The urge to drink can come out of nowhere, and the ability to avoid following through on the impulse is all that stands between the patient and relapse.

Managing Impulsive Behavior

Woman compulsively drinking

There are two factors at play with impulsive behavior and alcohol addiction: physical dependence and psychological cravings. The physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms that drive someone to want another drink are addressed during alcohol detox. Detox can be a rough period characterized by physical illness but with medical supervision by consulting physicians, it is safe and far more comfortable than attempting to fight addiction alone without supervision and intervention.

Psychological cravings are addressed through long-term psychotherapeutic intervention. Often unresolved issues of childhood abuse, trauma and co-occurring mental health issues—including anxiety or depression—can be a part of the problem; therefore, the best way to help the patient control impulsive drinking habits is to help them process the underlying emotional issues.

A Plan to Avoid Impulsive Behavior

One of the goals of long-term treatment for alcoholism is to help the patient to not only identify situations, people or events that trigger the craving for a drink but to create an actionable plan they can implement when they feel tempted.

Often, quelling the impulse to drink involves the following:

  • Leaving or ending a triggering experience as quickly as it is identified
  • Calling a sponsor or a supportive friend or family member who can talk them down and remind them of their recovery goals
  • Going to a meeting or calling a therapist for a spontaneous session
  • Bringing a sober partner to events or situations that can be triggering to drink
  • Taking 10 deep breaths and silently reciting a mantra or peaceful saying to return to a physical state of calm

These suggestions among others that Psychology Today offers can help those in recovery fight cravings with strength and dignity.[2] Learning how to control impulse behavior can be a lifelong process. Contact us at Michael’s House to talk about our programs for addiction treatment today. If you or someone you love is fighting alcohol or drug addiction, we can help. We can even check your insurance coverage for you as we explore rehab options together. Please call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline now.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Journal_of_Nervous_and_Mental_Disease

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-high-functioning-alcoholic/201006/summertime-parties-and-the-beach-quick-guide-coping