As humans, we are designed to seek out basic needs such as food, water, warmth, and rest. Nothing outlines this human behaviour better than Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At our fundamental base of humanity, we act on the impulse of meeting our basic needs. We do not strive for “wants” until those basic needs are met. But where do we draw the line of need vs want? According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we do not seek psychological wants until our basic needs are met first.

When we delve into impulse control, need vs want plays an important role. We often look at an object, behaviour, or emotion, and claim that we “need” it, but in reality, this may be something we just “want”. This want can fulfill a space that we believe is missing from our lives. Once we act on this impulse, the space is filled, but only temporarily and then we act on the impulse again. It is a circle of unfulfillment that we play into due to psychological desires.

What impulses do you notice in your life? What makes us act on these impulses? Is it an emotional impulse? Was it triggered by something that recently happened in your life? In this blog we cover how to control impulses, what may trigger an impulse, and if it is ever okay to give in to an impulse.



An impulse is the need to give in to a desirable action or object. We are not born with impulse control, it is a learned behaviour. When we are children we react on impulse without thinking of the consequences but adults can suffer from lack of impulse control as well. When we are in recovery, impulse control is one of the major hurdles we have to overcome to stay successful in our recovery journey. Desire plays a major role in our wants, but when does the impulse for something become too much? Why do we feel these impulses? Is it bad to cater to our feelings when our impulses may lead to having something whether it is healthy or not?

Inability to control impulses is directly linked with substance use disorder, eating disorders, gambling, and many more unhealthy behaviours. In early recovery, we discover what our triggers are and how we may overcome them. These triggers lead to impulses that we want to give in to, whether it is a substance, behaviour, or even an emotion. It is good practice to become self-aware of what our triggers are and how to control the impulses that accompany them.

One example of a trigger could be the internet. For an individual struggling with gambling, access to the internet could mean access to online gambling websites. This individual may find more success in their recovery by blocking gambling websites from their computer, limiting their internet time, or avoiding the internet all together. Stress may be another trigger for an individual struggling with impulse control. When they are feeling overwhelmed, they may start thinking about what brings them instant happiness, and they start to desire the one vice that may fill their impulse needs. There are many ways to avoid triggers, but it is important to note what your triggers may be so you can determine how to manage your impulses.



Once we determine the triggers that lead to our impulse decision making, we can create steps to ensure we resist the temptation of giving in to our impulses. These steps make it more difficult to give in to your impulses.

If you provide yourself with more time to think about what may happen if you give in, then you are more likely to resist. Try these following steps to help resist the need to fulfill your wants. Start by locating what may be your trigger, remove all tools of temptation (internet, substance, exercise equipment, etc.), and take a moment to contemplate the consequences of giving in to your initial impulse. If you give yourself enough time to understand why you are feeling the need to give in, eliminate your options, and think about your actions and the consequences, your impulse will mostly likely pass and you will find more success in your recovery. You could also find healthy ways to give in to your impulses. Use an alternative outlet to fulfill your need, and one that doesn’t harm yourself or others.

To stay on the path of impulse control, you could leave notes for yourself around your house with positive quotes and statements that promote your recovery. You could invite a supportive friend to spend some time with you so you may receive support when your impulse needs become overwhelming. You could seek assistance with counselling, whether it is in person or online. Find what works best for you. This is not a one size fits all approach to controlling impulse behaviour.

You may be thinking, after all that has been discussed, how can any impulse be seen as safe? Let’s take a step back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We instantly give in to the impulse of the need for food, water, and warmth. These are safe impulses to give into because they directly benefit our well-being. Instead of seeking past negative behaviours, you may start to feel the want to call a friend or counsellor. By feeling the impulse to seek help or positive communication, you are giving in to an impulse that benefits your mental and physical health. If you would like to discuss impulse control with our team or talk to a professional for more information, please contact us HERE.