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Dealing With Impulse Control In Recovery

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

January 23, 2019

Developing impulse control in recovery is a very consuming task, but a very necessary one. Relapse and other risky behavior may result if impulses are not managed well. Understanding situations that could trigger impulses, and developing a plan to deal with impulse control is a key element in a successful recovery.

Impulse And Addiction

There is a strong correlation between substance abuse and trouble with impulse control. Studies have shown that the use of multiple substances is usually linked to some form of impulse disorder.

Controlling the urge to engage in risky behavior is made more difficult with the use of mind-altering substances. This can encourage questionable choices in those struggling with addiction.

In recovery, impulse control is often challenged as you rebuild your coping techniques. Processing impulsive thoughts and actions in the moment may be difficult, but necessary in remaining on the right track in recovery.

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Processing Triggers

There are many adjustments to be made during the recovery process. When impulses surface, it’s important to have a way out to avoid a misstep. In the same way that negative events can trigger a relapse, a positive experience can cause impulses to take hold. A celebration with friends could involve drug or alcohol use so it’s important to assess these risks as they arise. In time, you can learn to process these triggers in an effective way. Some ideas for processing triggers include:

  • Keeping a small notebook and pencil handy. When temptation strikes, take time to jot down your thoughts. Begin your entry with an observation of your surroundings and what happened immediately prior to impulse. Use this to design an exit strategy and continue in future instances.
  • Talking to someone. Call your sponsor, a friend, or a family member. Sometimes a little reassurance is enough to combat impulses in recovery.
  • Taking a walk. Removing yourself from the situation will give you time to think about your next move. Go over the repercussions for relapse. Take this time to contact someone, if you’re able.
  • Removing relapse as an option. Determine if the strain to resist is more difficult than detox or the disappointment following relapse.

Impulses are a daily occurrence in the throes of addiction. In recovery, you’re urged to take time to map out triggers and impulses in order to avoid relapse. By practicing restraint, each instance will become easier to manage.

What If I Cave To Impulse?

In the event that relapse occurs, your initial impulse may be to resume addictive behavior. This thought process stems from the idea that relapse is the end of the line in your recovery. In reality, nearly 80 percent of individuals in early recovery have or will relapse at some point. After two years of sobriety, this statistic drops to about 20 percent. Relapse is always a possibility, but there are ways to handle this situation effectively to get back on track:

  • Don’t panic. Identify your surroundings and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Call your sponsor or a trusted loved one.
  • Attend a meeting or therapy session.
  • If you are on probation, leniency may be granted if you’re willing to take steps to resume recovery. Contact your probation officer to inform of a relapse.
  • Accountability is key. Take responsibility for your actions and take action to regain control.
  • It may be necessary to return to rehab for detox and further treatment.

Caving to impulse may lead to feelings of failure and hopelessness. These feelings can become triggers on their own, especially if you are under the influence. Identifying depression symptoms as they arise can aid in your journey back to sobriety and ensure your safety while you’re regaining control.

Dealing With Impulses

If you have spent a great deal of time with addiction, you probably spend some amount of time thinking about the substance that once controlled you. This is perfectly normal in recovery.

If the intent is to stay sober, there are many ways to counteract impulses as they arise through accountability, awareness, and reaching out. Following through with your commitment to sobriety may be difficult at times, but paving the way with coping tools can be an invaluable process in lasting recovery.

Behavioral therapies used in substance abuse treatment programs help identify situations that trigger impulsivity, and help the individual create a working plan to address them. These techniques are intended to eventually help the client replace impulsive behaviors with new, more appropriate coping strategies.

We Can Help

Dealing with impulse control is an important step in recovery. If you or someone you know needs guidance with impulse control, the caring staff at is here to help. We can answer any questions you may have and help find resources in your area to aid in recovery. Contact us today.

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