Why Are People with ADHD Impulsive?

The thalamus is an area of the brain which controls response inhibition. It sends out signals to permit or restrict behaviors based on what's appropriate or safe. Those signals are relayed from the thalamus to the frontal cortex, which manages problem solving and emotional expression.

ADHD brains are different, however. The thalamus in an ADHD brain isn't able to control responses effectively, so it's like the gate that helps control behavior is broken. This can result in decisions or actions which are uninhibited by things that the brain would otherwise detect as red flags. The person acting impulsively may see those red flags eventually, but it takes longer to recognize them because their brain's signaling does not function in a typical way.

Not all people with ADHD have impulsive tendencies, however. In fact, there are three types of ADHD, and only two of those are associated with impulsivity: hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD and combined type ADHD (which involves both hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive symptoms). People with inattentive type ADHD, on the other hand, may not have any impulsive symptoms.

Signs of Impulsivity with ADHD

Someone who is impulsive often acts without thinking first. They make rash decisions without stopping to consider the consequences, and they may act on short-term desires without thinking about long-term ramifications.

A great example of how this ADHD symptom may play out in adults is impulsive shopping. Buying things on a whim can be exciting once in a while, but for someone with ADHD impulsivity, it could spiral out of control. An ADHD brain focuses on the short-term dopamine boost that comes from buying something new. But acting on instant gratification ignores other concerns, like whether the item is something they can afford, where it will be stored, and whether it's something the person even needs.

As with other impulsive decisions, there can be a rude awakening later on after the initial rush of excitement wears off. Impulse buying can lead people to get into tough financial situations, and their homes can become cluttered with unnecessary purchases.

Other possible signs of impulsivity in adults with ADHD may include:

  • Being prone to emotional outbursts
  • Overindulging in foods and drinks
  • Frequent interrupting in conversations
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Substance overuse or abuse

Some of the signs of ADHD impulsivity in children are:

  • Blurting out answers before raising their hand
  • Inability to filter thoughts and frequently interrupting
  • Having trouble waiting their turn
  • Punching or screaming as an emotional reaction
  • Taking reckless physical risks and getting injured frequently

Tips for Managing ADHD Impulsivity

People with ADHD may have different types of impulsive tendencies. While one person struggles with substance abuse, another might frequently interrupt others. The strategies to curb impulsivity, therefore, can be very different depending on what types of behaviors are causing the most disruption to each individual's life.

Take the example of impulsive shopping. For this type of impulsive behavior, you might set a rule that any item you buy must be something that you can return. One tip for online shopping is that whenever you add something to your cart, make yourself wait a minimum of 24 hours before you actually buy it. The excitement may wear off during that period, and you might decide you don't want to buy the item after all. Using apps that track your spending can also be helpful for budgeting purposes.

But what if setting rules like these aren't enough to curb your spending? Some people have strong impulses that result in making the purchase regardless of any promises they may have made to themselves before. If that happens, you might need to resort to something stricter, like blocking certain online shopping sites from your devices, bringing only cash with you when you shop to help limit spending, or even cutting up a credit card that you've overused.

In general, there are a few tips you can keep in mind to help minimize impulsive behaviors related to ADHD:

  • Practice mindfulness, which can help you better process emotions, thoughts, and urges in the moment.
  • Recognize what triggers your impulsivity, and consider whether there are ways you can avoid that trigger.
  • Engage in calming activities, which can release stress or edginess that contributes to impulsivity.

In addition, it's important to make sure you have a good treatment plan in place for your ADHD. For many people, finding the right ADHD medication can be a game-changer when it comes to managing symptoms like impulsivity. At Done, our licensed clinicians can help you through the process, even if it involves some trial and error to find the best medication and dosage. Get started by taking our simple online assessment today.