Managing impulsive behaviors during the early stages of recovery is an essential part of taking care of yourself and mitigating the chances of a relapse. Early recovery can be a vulnerable, difficult adjustment. Living life without substances requires truly facing your triggers and feelings.
Managing impulsive behavior can be challenging, but here are some important takeaways to keep in mind.
Expect Some Difficulties with Impulsive Behavior
It can be helpful to simply acknowledge that many people struggle with impulsivity-related issues during the early stages of recovery. You are not alone or "crazy" for having difficulties. Your brain is simply seeking dopamine through old and familiar patterns!
Furthermore, impulsivity is a common symptom associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) as well as many other psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and other behavioral addictions.
Identify Your Impulsive Tendencies
Impulsivity varies from person to person. Some people engage in risky sexual behaviors. Others struggle with impulsive spending or binge eating. Some find that they fluctuate with various impulse control issues based on their emotional state or the situation itself.
With that, it is always helpful to consider the specific triggers driving impulsive behaviors in everyday life. Knowing your triggers doesn't always mean avoiding them outright (although you can take steps to avoid or reduce high-risk situations). However, having this insight can help you develop coping strategies to manage them more efficiently.
Prioritize Creating a Structured Routine
Routine can be such an important part of creating a sense of stability in daily life, and this becomes especially important in early recovery. A routine can help you stay focused and on track. Likewise, if your routine also focuses on looking after your physical health, it may reduce the chances of you getting too hungry, tired, bored, or irritable.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
Research in neuroplasticity shows that it is possible to rewire neural pathways in the brain by consistently replacing impulsive behaviors with more adaptive ones. This takes time, but the best time to start is right now.
It may be beneficial to start by writing down a list of positive skills you can refer to when you feel tempted to engage in impulsive behaviors. For example, you might enjoy deep breathing, journaling, calling supportive friends, or taking hot showers.
Write Down the Negative Consequences
When you're in the moment and feeling triggered, it can be hard to control yourself from engaging in impulsive behavior.
Some of the main consequences include:
exacerbating mental illness symptoms
immense guilt and shame
health issues (i.e. potentially getting an STD) related to compulsive sexual behavior
financial stress due to compulsive shopping
legal issues if you struggle with aggressive behavior
risk of relapse into substance abuse
loss of certain relationships or serious relationship problems
In as much detail as possible, highlight these serious consequences and put them in a place that's highly accessible (like on your nightstand). Take a picture of them to keep on your phone so you have it with you at all times.
Learn From Your Relapses or Mistakes
Impulse control disorders can be difficult to treat. Like any addiction, it is important to be mindful of the risk of relapse, and it is especially important to be willing to hold yourself accountable and learn from your own shortcomings.
If you succumb to a certain impulsive behavior, assess what exactly went wrong. Consider which emotions or thoughts emerged. Analyze how you acted in familiar ways, but note if you tried anything new. Think about how you can handle this exact situation differently in the future. All we can do is our best, and if you continue staying oriented toward growth, you will continue to make positive changes moving forward.
Commit to Delayed Gratification
There's a reason it's so popular to tell people to take it one day at a time. When you think about not doing something forever, it can feel overwhelming and impossible. But when you focus on decisions as a granular, moment-by-moment process, things feel far more bearable.
When you do feel an impulsive behavior impulse arise, practice pausing. Delay any response for at least thirty minutes. Then, refer to your list of coping skills. Remind yourself that you can keep delaying...over and over again. The more you sit it out, the more likely it is that your desire to engage in that behavior will either decrease or disappear altogether.
Seek Professional Support
A licensed mental health professional can help you understand and manage impulsive behavior, especially if such behaviors are connected to a mental health condition. In addition, talk therapy provides a sense of support, accountability, and safety- you can talk about what's going on in your life without the fear of judgment or shaming. Your therapist is truly on your side.
Decreasing Impulsivity and Strengthening Your Mental Health With Resurface Group
At Resurface Group, we understand that frequent impulsive behavior is often a sign of underlying distress. If you feel like you struggle with poor self-control or want to reduce certain risky behaviors in your life, we are here to support you.
At Resurface Connect, our virtual IOP program is dedicated to helping people with substance abuse and other mental health conditions feel more empowered and gain control over their lives. We support people struggling with patterns of self-sabotage, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), personality disorders, and more.
We are here for you or your loved one. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs.