The Link Between Self Harm and Addiction

Self-harm and addiction can sometimes coexist within the same individual. How does this happen? Well, considering that both of these conditions are nondiscriminatory and they can afflict anyone at any point in their life, they are often used as coping mechanisms in order to deal with whatever pain or internal struggles that may be going on. The development of healthy coping mechanisms is essential for avoiding the unhealthy ones when life takes a turn and things begin to be hard. 

What is Self-Harm?

According to the National Institute on Mental Illness (NAMI), self-harm can be classified as any form of self inflicted injury, or the purposeful act of hurting oneself. One of the more common forms of self-harm is the use of sharp objects, such as razor blades or knives, to cut oneself. However, deliberate forms of injury are all classified as self-harm. Punching, burning, or pinching yourself are considered to be other forms of self-harm. 

These acts are not considered to be a mental health condition, but rather a behavioral condition. However, oftentimes mental health conditions such as depression can lead someone to use self-harm as a way of coping with the symptoms of whatever mental health condition may be affecting them. Although these behaviors are more often seen during teenage years, it can happen at any time and any age. Risk factors of self harm include trauma, neglect, or abuse. 

Is Self-Harm Addictive?

Usually when we think of addictive behavioral conditions, things like gambling or shopping addictions come to mind. But what about self-harm? With addiction, there is a compulsion to use the substance to cope with life’s daily struggles. The same rings true for self-harm. The very nature of the behavior is a coping mechanism, as is the same with substance use, that can help someone to feel like they are coping with whatever emotional distresses they may be enduring.

Because of this, self-harm is often considered to be addictive. The afflicted person compulsively turns to such behaviors to cope. However, not all who turn to the behaviors become addicted. That said, people who suffer with substance abuse or who are predisposed to substance abuse often become addicted to self-harm behaviors.

Self-Harm and Substance Abuse

Although people who engage in self-harm behaviors are not definitively also suffering from substance use disorders and vice versa, there are many instances when these two disorders exist within one individual. Both substance use disorders and self-harm behaviors are ways of coping. Unhealthy as they may be, they become a way to numb emotional pain. 

Using self-harm as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional pain can sometimes lead to substance abuse further down the road, making it harder to end the behaviors. Untreated mental health concerns can lead to the co-occurring disorders being more prevalent. When it comes to self-harm and addiction, identifying warning signs is crucial to being able to address these behaviors and professional help is vital to being able to end them.

Warning Signs of Self-Harm and Addiction

Sometimes, both of these disorders can be difficult to identify. Self-harm and addiction to drugs and alcohol are both secretive behaviors and individuals who engage in these behaviors have oftentimes become adept to hiding them. However, there can be some common warning signs to both of these types of behaviors. Some self-harm warning signs: 

  • Isolation and avoiding social settings
  • Wearing long sleeve almost exclusively, even during extremely hot days
  • Visible scars, often seen in patterns or clusters
  • Talk and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness
  • Frequent injury with reasoning as to how they occurred

Substance abuse warning signs:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and hobbies
  • Withdrawing from close friends and family
  • Changes in appearance (i.e. sudden weight loss or gain, dishevelment)
  • Sudden and extreme mood swings
  • Changes in behaviors

The best way to cope with self-harm and addiction is by seeking professional help. Medical and mental health professionals can help teach the healthy coping mechanisms needed to replace these harmful ones.

How to Treat Self-Harm and Addiction

Treating self-harm and addiction can be tricky. However it is possible. There are behavioral therapies and family therapies have proven to be beneficial in those who suffer with these disorders. Addressing past traumas, in a professional setting where you feel safe and secure, can also be highly beneficial to ending these behaviors as well. There are a multitude of different combinations of things to treat self-harm and addiction.

Help for Self-Harm and Addiction in South Florida

If you or a loved one find yourself struggling with self-harm, compounded by addiction, there is help. At the Neuroscience Institute, we help those suffering from these ailments reach a better place in life. We do this by teaching healthy coping mechanisms and addressing underlying concerns. Reach out today, and we can help you along your path to a better life.

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