Lifeskills Mental Health Blog

Is Self-Harming Addictive?

Illustrated woman sitting with barbed wire wrapped around her.

Is Self-Harming Addictive?

Most of us are aware of the more common addictive substances and behaviors. Gambling, shopping, working, internet, or social media use, are just some examples of the various addictive behaviors prevalent in our society. But recent studies have shown that we can add another to that list: self-harm. How can the desire to harm oneself be a behavior that develops into an addiction? We’ll explore the relationship between trauma, self-harm, the brain, and more to understand these situations better.

How Is Self-Harm Defined?

Self-harm is behavior that individuals use to harm themselves intentionally. Self-harm behaviors  are often confused with suicide attempts and often used in the same context but these two  actions  do not always correlate. Self-harm is commonly used as one of many coping mechanisms for individuals who are struggling with trauma, pain, or stress that they have no control over. This self-soothing mechanism provides a temporary moment of distraction from their painful thoughts or current stressors. Some forms of self-harm include:

  • Pulling out hair (known as Trichotillomania)
  • Scratching or cutting at the skin
  • Carving into the skin, usually superficially
  • Burning
  • Picking at wounds
  • Hitting oneself or other objects

How Can Harming One’s Self Be Addictive?

Self-harm is used as an emotional release for a variety of emotions. Instead of finding professional help, individuals may rely on the freedom they feel while focusing on harmful behaviors. Without intervention, these behaviors can become addictive. Addictive behaviors are “Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially.” If one relies on physical harm as a major form of avoiding and dealing with stress, it can easily become an addictive behavior.

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Self Harm

Self-harm and substance use often have an intertwining relationship. For adolescents especially, substance use and self-harm can be intertwined, with both conditions combining to create a long-term relationship that affects individuals’ mental, physical, and emotional health. Adolescents who relied on self-harm to cope were found to be at a much greater risk of substance abuse. The inverse is true as well, with individuals who consume drugs at a much higher risk of turning to self-harm.[1] When combined, these two behaviors are difficult disassociate from. Finding quality treatment for substance use or addictive behaviors like self-harm is one of the few effective ways to recover.

How to Know Someone Might Be Addicted to Self-Harm

Not everyone will become addicted to self-harm, but anyone can. In order to prevent or combat self-harm, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms that show an individual might be engaging in these behaviors. People who self-harm usually exhibit many of the following behaviors:

  • Avoiding social gatherings or work
  • Withdrawing from relationships
  • Avoiding social settings
  • Random cuts, bruises, or burns on various body parts
  • A reliance on long sleeves or long pants in awkward or strange situations
  • Mood swings
  • Discomfort around close friends and family

Professional Support Can Help Prevent Self-Harm

Preventing self-harm starts with knowledge and professional support. Yet, many people aren’t taught about the addictive nature of self-harm, nor are they exposed to the benefits of treatment centers like Lifeskills South Florida. At Lifeskills, we help combat addictive behaviors that negatively impact people’s lives and relationships using CBT and DBT as part of our treatment. Call Lifeskills today at 954-953-1742 for more information, or fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch with you or a loved one at a moment’s notice.





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