To be clear, a person may not ever heal from addiction. It depends upon the person’s temperament, history of drug use, drug of choice, and lifestyle, among other factors, that indicates whether a person will ever return to addiction. However, in the 12-step model, addiction is considered a life-long illness. Even if you’re sober, you remain vigilant about your ability to say no to alcohol and drugs.

Nonetheless, part of the healing process and recovery from addiction is learning to be less impulsive. A person who is drinking and who is impulsive may continue to drink because the urge to do so is there. However, they may not take the time to think that they need to drive home, prepare for the next day, and wake up early in the morning. They may not remember that they need to drive their child to school in the morning. Being impulsive derives from living in the moment and forgetting about everything else.

Sure, this can be fun at times. In fact, being impulsive can bring a certain joy to life. However, excessive impulsivity can become problematic. In the mental health field, impulsivity is the urge to act without any sort of thinking about the future or consequences. Some individuals have learned to control their impulses, to feel them, but not give into them. However, impulsivity is common in those who struggle with addiction.

There are a few ways that a person can learn to become less impulsive and the following strategies are often used in recovery:

  • –weighing rewards and consequences under specific circumstances
  • –medication that helps promote functioning in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for governing logic and reason.
  • –cognitive behavioral therapy which helps a person explore thoughts and feeling associated with impulsive behavior
  • –assessing the risks and rewards of substance use
  • –relaxation techniques such as deep breathing right in the moment of potential impulsivity
  • –keeping a log of impulsive behaviors to learn more about which circumstances promote impulsivity
  • –keeping a lot of the impulsivity in others because sometimes it’s easier to notice what’s going on in others versus yourself


In addition to these suggestions, it can be helpful to have a regular practice of relaxation methods including deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and/or visualization. Whenever you feel anxious or nervous or overwhelmed, these are times when impulsivity can set in. If you begin to become more aware of these moments and utilize relaxation techniques instead, you’re helping to change neurological patterns and pathways.

For example, someone struggling with substance use and impulsivity may have developed the pattern of using substances when feeling overwhelmed with feelings. However, over time, as a person chooses to use relaxation techniques instead of substances to calm down, they reinforce a new and healthier brain pathway.

However, please remember that making these sort of changes on your own isn’t easy nor is it recommended. It’s best to include a mental health provider in your recovery.

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