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What Is the Connection between Self-Harm and Addiction?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Psychological studies link self-harm and addiction, revealing that those who practice self-injury may become addicted to natural neurotransmitters produced in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins are created and released whenever someone self-harms by cutting, bruising, biting or some other physically self-injurious act, such as hair pulling. These neurotransmitters trigger opiate receptors located in the brain, causing those receptors to produce heightened feelings of pleasure, well-being and numbness to pain. Psychiatrists say this natural high is not unlike the highs produced by narcotics, such as cocaine, opium and methamphetamine, which also trigger addictions. After a few self-harming episodes, studies suggest it is possible for a person to become addicted to the resulting and powerful euphoria.

The desire to cope and survive overwhelming emotional pain is often the lure of self-harm and addiction in other forms, whether it be drugs or alcohol. Those susceptible to the addiction of self-harming may include people suffering from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Doctors distinguish between recreational self-harm and addiction to self-harm, explaining that some teenagers may experiment with self-injury as a daring pastime. A self-harm addict, however, is one who becomes compulsively fixated on performing self-mutilation and self-wounding or becomes totally dependent on self-harming to function and manage daily feelings.

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Concealing self-harm and addiction tendencies is typical, doctors say, making diagnosis and treatment difficult. Those who suspect a loved one may be addicted to self-harming may choose to check not only the wrists, which are commonly injured, but also the stomach, legs, ankles, and the inner thigh area. Some self-harm addicts also target genitalia. Besides fresh or healed injuries, another sign of self-harm addiction is the accumulation of tools needed to injure. While razor blades are the most typical, studies show victims might use collected pieces of glass, needles, and rocks with acute edges; even erasers are often collected by addicts and used to create skin burns.

Some psychiatrists report that self-harm and addiction to drugs or alcohol may be correlated; people who have a history of chemical dependence might be more susceptible to the addiction of the endorphin rush caused by self-injury. In fact, some individuals might replace narcotics with self-harming when attempting to detoxify or end drug addiction. Not only might the practice of self-harm be a physical addiction to the chemical endorphins, but it may also be a psychological addiction to harming as a way to have control over emotions in an environment where much may seem out of the victim’s control. Treatment for the addiction of self-harming includes prescriptions for anti-depressants, group or individual therapy and various 12-step recovery programs.

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candyquilt
Post 3

I was addicted to self-harm when I was young. I suffered from chronic anxiety and it was the anxiety symptoms that caused me to harm myself. When I was having severe anxiety, it felt like my blood was flowing too fast and cutting my wrists to release blood seemed like the only way to make this feeling disappear.

I was admitted to the hospital several times because of my addiction and started receiving behavior therapy from a great doctor. I was also put on anti-anxiety medications. Psychological therapy along with mediation resolved my issues. When the underlying emotions and problems went away, or when I learned how to cope with them, my desire to self-harm disappeared as well.

If anyone reading this is in a similar situation, please ask for help because there is a solution.

SarahGen
Post 2

@turquoise-- No, those who are addicted to self-harm don't have differently functioning brains. Every one of us have a mechanism where endorphins are released when we have an injury. This is the natural pain relieving hormone that makes us feel better when we are experiencing pain. You might not be aware of this if you don't get injured frequently. It's this feeling that self-harm addicts are after.

The other aspect is that when our body is in pain, our emotional pain becomes less important. For example, whenever I'm sick or injured, I don't worry as much and I see everything in perspective. I realize that my physical health is also important. I suspect that self-harm addicts injure themselves to get away from their worries.

turquoise
Post 1

I'm surprised that people can be addicted to self harm. When I get injured, I don't feel any pleasure. I experience pain, fear and worry. Why does self-harm give happiness to an addict? Are our minds functioning differently?

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