What do you most remember about being eighteen? For me, it is the impulsiveness. Cruising into tattoo parlors and blurting out little-considered ideas for permanent ink designs and various piercings. Jumping off a pier in Greece only to realize I’d have to swim quite far to find an exit, all the while with boats headed my direction. Often speaking before I’d considered my words. It was a time of unmitigated youth – which I now think of as synonymous for poor decision making and routine embarrassment.
I would need quite a few martinis to consider doing many of the things I did without thought or question when I was eighteen. What has changed? Are we simply older and wiser, grown more cautious by our experiences? I would posit that if that were the only mechanism of change, growing up shouldn’t have taken quite so long. An alternative explanation is that the very pathways of our brain chemistry have changed. Impulsiveness, it turns out, has a lot to do with brain chemistry. For those people whose chemistry doesn’t naturally alter with age, impulsiveness can continue long past youthful days.
That is what spurred researchers in the United Kingdom to look into how dopamine and serotonin in the brain impacts impulse control. Dopamine and serotonin are important neurotransmitters. Dopamine is affiliated with pleasure and serotonin is affiliated with mood regulation and, often, with impulse control. The study found that impulse control is more nuanced and multifaceted than often represented. The research suggests that claiming serotonin as the impulse control neurotransmitter is not representative of the wide range of contributors when it comes to regulating our impulses. In particular, there are several dimensions of impulsivity and different dimensions may be governed by different pathways.
They conclude that both serotonin and dopamine systems are likely at work, and that medications relating to these pathways have been pivotal in their contribution to clinical psychology as it relates to impulse control disorders.