Living in Recovery Mental Health

Getting a Handle on Impulsivity in Sobriety

Impulse control issues and addiction seem to go hand in hand a lot of the times. A person who has spent years chasing down drugs and alcohol due to an uncontrollable urge will have trouble tempering... Read More


Impulse control issues and addiction seem to go hand in hand a lot of the times. A person who has spent years chasing down drugs and alcohol due to an uncontrollable urge will have trouble tempering their decision making abilities quite a bit, and many times, just getting sober does not remove this impulsivity right away. However, as time goes on and with some work, your impulsivity in sobriety can be curbed and you can learn to pause between thoughts and actions, allowing you to create a healthier and more structured life.

Impulsivity in sobriety is something that many addicts and alcoholics suffer from. They find that they are capable of dealing with their impulse to use drugs or drink, and they are capable of not stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, but they still find it difficult to not act out on certain reoccurring thoughts. These thoughts may manifest themselves as changing jobs on a whim or getting into unhealthy relationships, but the result is usually the same, some sort of unwanted chaos in their lives.

This sort of impulsivity in sobriety isn’t always dangerous, but it can over time and with repetition, lead a person back to drinking or using, if not dealt with. But how exactly does a person who is used to giving into their every thought and desire begin to change this pattern? How do they get the much-needed pause required to stop their impulsive thoughts in their tracts and change course? The answer isn’t always the same for everyone, but it usually begins with working the Steps and a little bit of emotional pain.

The 12 Steps are designed to remove the obsession to drink and use drugs in a person afflicted with alcoholism and addiction, and while they do offer this, they also offer so much more. They allow an alcoholic or addict to completely change their life and in doing so, they give them a new way of thinking. Old patterns of thoughts that once seemed so ingrained are now replaced with healthier patterns and the sober person now has the ability to stop and ask for help when they are feeling impulsive, rather than just acting out.

Just having the ability to call a friend or someone else from your support group when you are about to act out on something impulsively is revolutionary for many addicts and alcoholics. It is not something that they did much of while they were in their active addiction, but now sober, it becomes a way of life. They come to realize the benefit of such a simple action and it has saved a great many addicts and alcoholics from doing something ridiculous.

Besides this, one of the best ways that impulsivity in sobriety can be curbed is by trial and error. This is probably not the answer that most people are seeking, but it is the truth. “Pain is the touchstone of all spiritual experience” and as this is an indelible truth, it is the path that many people traverse on their road to a less impulsive life.

What this means is that many times, you cannot come to realize how impulsive you are until you have acted impulsively and suffered the consequences from those actions. A person who is easily angered at work and therefore impulsively changes jobs a lot will not come to realize, and be able to change this pattern until they themselves are fed up with it. They will not be able to stop themselves from pulling the trigger on their spontaneous resignations until they experience the downfall of such actions.

The same goes for a person who just impulsively gets into relationships over and over again. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, impulsively getting into relationships can cause a great deal of unneeded pain in a person’s life and can cause problems that would not have occurred otherwise.

In both of these situations, the best teacher is life itself, as it will show the impulsive person how their actions are directly correlated to the pain they are feeling and because of this, they will then be able to make better choices in the future.

If all else fails when trying to deal with impulsivity, you can always turn your attention towards someone else and try to get out of yourself. Helping another person is a great way to help with impulsivity because it takes the focus off of your own thoughts and allows you to have a pause in the action. Many times, it has helped addicts and alcoholics avoid a relapse and it has also helped them to avoid making bad decisions.

One of the most important lessons that a person in sobriety can learn is that it takes time to change. A newly sober person cannot receive all of the changes that they want to see in their life immediately because they do not have the experience or all of the information yet. It seems that sometimes people get discouraged in their sobriety because they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again and they appear to be incapable of changing, and they would be correct. We cannot change until we can change and this sometimes takes years of work and years of making mistakes.

So if you are newly sober or sober 20 years and you have a problem with impulsive decision making, know that you are not alone. Most of us suffer from this in one form or another and as long as you continue to put one foot in front of the other and try your best, you will improve over time.