Psychiatric aspects of impulsivity

Am J Psychiatry. 2001 Nov;158(11):1783-93. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.158.11.1783.


Objective: The authors discuss the relationship of impulsivity to psychiatric disorders and present selected hypotheses regarding the reasons for these relationships.

Method: Previous research has shown significantly higher levels of impulsivity among patients with conduct disorder, personality disorders, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder, compared to other psychiatric patients or healthy comparison subjects. A literature review of the theoretical bases of the relationship between these disorders and impulsivity is presented. Measurements of impulsivity and treatment options are discussed in relation to the physiology of impulsivity and the disorders in which it is a prominent feature.

Results: Impulsivity, as defined on the basis of a biopsychosocial approach, is a key feature of several psychiatric disorders. Behavioral and pharmacological interventions that are effective for treating impulsivity should be incorporated into treatment plans for these disorders.

Conclusions: The high comorbidity of impulsivity and selected psychiatric disorders, including personality disorders, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder, is in a large part related to the association between impulsivity and the biological substrates of these disorders. Before treatment studies on impulsivity can move forward, measures of impulsivity that capture the core aspects of this behavior need to be refined and tested on the basis of an ideologically neutral model of impulsivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Bipolar Disorder / complications
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / complications
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / therapy
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Humans
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Antipsychotic Agents