Impulsivity and How it Can Impact Daily Life in Addiction Recovery

How impulsivity impacts addiction recoveryImpulsivity has long been part of the discussion when it comes to addiction recovery, as individuals who have difficulty holding back from acting on something – despite their negative consequences – have been shown to be more susceptible to addiction. As an article published by researchers from California suggests, addiction affects the prefrontal cortex, which influences the way a person makes decisions, speaks, learns, judges and more. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that we use to make rational decisions, but where impulsivity takes place, addiction causes a person to transition from impulsivity to compulsivity. When this happens, a person is no longer using substances for pleasure – rather, they are seeking out substances because their mind and body feel compelled to do so; as the researchers from the study aforementioned suggest, this is essentially like having a car without brakes.

Impulsivity: How It Works

A 2014 article published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) explained that impulsivity is a form of altered regulation in the brain and those who are more prone to impulsive behaviors are prone to choosing immediate rewards over more effortful, long-term incentives. Furthermore, a 2017 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology sought to explore the types of impulsivity and how they are linked to addictive behaviors. A total of 1,252 young adults were assessed on different impulsive and personality trait measures and these were the three “types” of impulsivity the researchers found:

  • Impulsive Choice – choosing immediate rewards over longer-term ones
  • Impulsive Action – difficulty withholding a response to act impulsively
  • Impulsive Personality Traits – personality traits that often correlate to acting without thinking

Previous studies have shown that impulsivity, attention and working memory deficits are often found in those with substance use disorders (SUDs). While we can understand the relationship between impulsivity and how addiction translates this into compulsiveness for those abusing substances, a different question remains: Do those in addiction recovery still experience issues with impulsiveness? If so, what is their experience like?

Combatting Impulsivity in Addiction Recovery

A study conducted by researchers from Portland, Oregon in 2017 sought to understand these types of impairments in adults recovering from methamphetamine addiction. Twenty-four people in recovery were compared with thirty people not addicted to any substances. The researchers conducted several tests to identify any key differences between the groups, especially as it relates to executive functioning and impulsivity. They found that those recovering from meth addiction experienced much more difficulty with attention and working memory, planning and organization and mental flexibility compared to the group of individuals not struggling with addiction.

There’s no doubt that the effects of addiction can weigh heavily on one’s recovery – for many, it’s a process of learning and re-learning.

Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, Executive Director of the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC). explained in 2014 that part of breaking down this impulsive nature is to try different approaches – and often, over time – so the brain learns to ask questions, problem solve, weigh out decisions and more, which are tools towards combating relapse and living more mindfully.

This type of “brain training” is heavily reinforced in intensive outpatient treatment programs, where individuals can begin to practice what they’ve been learning in treatment to their home, school and work lives. Of course, impulsiveness can still rear its head, even for someone who has been working diligently towards their recovery for quite some time. In some moments of vulnerability, we may find that we’re more susceptible to acting on our emotions – and that is when we really need to remind ourselves of the rules for recovery.

The 5 Rules of Recovery

A 2015 article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine emphasized that when it comes to relapse prevention, it’s a gradual process. Different stages take place and along with that come various personal milestones. The main tools of recovery often involve cognitive therapy, which helps to change negative thinking and impulsive behaviors that stem from it. There were 5 simple rules listed for recovery, which really provides an excellent and easy-to-understand foundation for those working to overcome impulses:

  1. Change your life – create a life where it’s easier to not use; this is often in terms of your routine, who you spend your time with and the hobbies you partake in
  2. Be completely honest – both with yourself and others, take responsibility when it’s due
  3. Ask for help – speak to your sponsor, reach out to your peers in your program and refer to the resources you’ve been given in recovery thus far to help guide you through challenging times
  4. Practice self-care – eat healthily, get exercise, sleep well, drink water and take good care of your health overall. Recovery is not just about sobriety, it’s about nourishing your mind, body and spirit
  5. Don’t bend the rules!

If you’re ready to begin your journey to recovery, speak with a professional from Cumberland Heights today. It is never too late.

Cumberland Heights in Nashville, Tennessee on Music Row is a 12-Step based alcohol & drug rehab program. Cumberland Heights’ Intensive Outpatient Program is designed for individuals 18 and above who may be in the early stages of dependency or are experiencing problems with alcohol or drug use. We offer personalized assessments and treatment plans, as well as convenient evening hours to accommodate your workday schedule. To get started on your recovery journey today, call us at 615-356-2700.