Impulsivity vs Compulsivity, what is the difference?

Impulsivity is defined as a failure to resist a temptation, an urge, an impulse, or the inability to not speak on a thought. In clinical application as well as in research, impulsivity is a significant construct concerning risky behaviors and mental disorders. According to DSM-5, Impulsivity is an aspect of disinhibition, an immediate reaction to stimuli, or an unplanned reaction on the spur of the moment or with no regard for its consequences. It is recognized as a diagnostic criterion for several disorders, but how it influences mental disorders and development of risky behaviors is not yet clear. Impulsivity can be a symptom of the following disorders: hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, personality disorders like antisocial and borderline.

According to APA, compulsions are a type of behavior or a mental act that the individual feels driven or compelled to perform to reduce anxiety or distress or to prevent a dreaded, fearful event or situation. Compulsive behaviors are driven by repetitive urges and typically involve the experience of limited voluntary control over these urges, and a diminished ability to delay or inhibit these behaviors, and a tendency to perform repetitive acts in a habitual or stereotyped manner. Such Behaviors are part of substance and behavioral addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, neurological disorders (e.g., Parkinson). Compulsive behaviors are relevant even beyond psychiatric disorders. In the general population, about 10% of people have OCD-related sub-threshold symptoms that include compulsive behaviors but are not strong enough for diagnosis.

Both Impulsivity and compulsivity have been quantified using scores on behavioral tasks or self-report questionnaires. However, the relationship remains undefined and unclear. Despite that, and the prevalence of both occurring in the same person, both have traditionally been categorized as fundamentally distinct. Recent Confirmatory Factor Analyses (CFA) of multiple measures of impulsivity and compulsivity has shown that the constructs form two distinct but positively correlated traits. Common comorbidity (2 conditions in one patient) has sparked renewed interest in the factors contributing to the disorders in which these behaviors are prominent. Psychiatric research is shifting toward understanding of the underlying constructs and mechanisms that drive maladaptive behavior.

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