Self-harm, as a behavior, can be a way of coping with problems. It is defined as a deliberate injury to the body that causes pain, bruising, or bleeding without any suicidal intent. The addiction occurs when the body becomes tolerant of a substance and reacts negatively when that substance withdraws. In most cases, a buildup of anger, self-loathing, depression, anxiety, as well as frustration can “motivate” the individual to seek escape through self-harm. The individual harms their physical self in order to deal with these emotions and to end feelings of numbness by stimulating sensation.
U.S Statistics show that self-harm is a present threat to people all around the world, especially in developed countries. Studies show that each year, 1 in 5 females, and 1 in 7 males suffer from self-harm. Furthermore, roughly 50% of these individuals have been sexually abused, and also 90% begin harming themselves during their teens or pre-adolescent years. In addition, these researches have come to the conclusion that nearly 60% of those who suffer from self-harm are females and many of them learn how to self-mutilate them from friends or self-injury websites. Annually, there is a report of approximately two million cases of self-harm in the U.S.
Furthermore, since the majority of individuals engaged in self-harm conceal their activities, this behavior hardly comes to the attention of medical professionals. Since self-harm is a private activity, the rates are hard to control.
Most-Common Types of Self-Harm
In the majority of cases, self-harm is an impulsive activity and not intended to be lethal. The most common methods are:
- Skin cutting (70% – 90%)
- Head banging or hitting (21% – 44%)
- Burning (15% – 35%)
Additionally, other forms also include:
- Sticking objects into the skin
- Pulling out hair
- Skin picking
- Intentionally interfering with wound healing
- Swallowing poison
- Breaking bones in the hands and feet
- Infecting oneself
Most individuals battling with non-suicidal self-harm hurt themselves in multiple ways and engage in self-injury with less than an hour of planning. Reportedly, they feel minimal or no pain.
Self-Harm and Addiction
Unfortunately, self-harm and addiction go together. When an individual battles with drug or alcohol abuse, that person is already harming his/her body, as well as the mind. The abuse of drugs and alcohol can result in poor health, including malnutrition, heart-related diseases, but also in nerve damage, cancer of the mouth and throat, and the likes. Apart from having a life-threatening effect on the body, substance abuse also can permanently alter one’s actual brain chemistry. The individual might experience the worst emotions imaginable, but only ten times worse due to the addiction. Moreover, drugs and alcohol can counterbalance levels of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins in the brain that largely contributes to dangerous mental shifts.
Other Causes of Self-Harm
The set of emotions that trigger self-harm is complex. Essentially, it is the individual’s inability to cope with deep-rooted psychological pain in healthy ways. Certain factors may increase the risk of self-harming, including:
- Age – most individuals who engage in self-harm and women adolescents. It usually starts in the early years when they face peer pressure, disappointments, as well as loneliness, or conflicts with parents.
- Family – statistics show that individuals who have a history of a suicidal or self-destructive parent have bigger risks of self-harming.
- Life history – many individuals who self-harm themselves have a history of being sexually, emotionally, or physically abused, or have been neglected as children. Other factors include social isolation, unemployment, and divorce.
- Mental health issues – individuals who hurt themselves usually suffer from another mental illness. These illnesses may include borderline personality disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, as well as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depersonalization disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and trauma.
Sometimes, self-harm can be a coping strategy when faced with negative life events. In other cases, it can be due to emotional regulation to take one’s mind off of overwhelming and intolerable emotions. Thus, the act of self-harm temporarily distracts the individual from the negative thought patterns and feelings.
Furthermore, studies also show that some individuals who have faced a traumatic event in life have difficulties in experiencing emotions. As a result, the pain produced by self-harming triggers the production of endorphins which leads to powerful feelings of pleasure.
In some cases, individuals battling with self-harming have been raised in households where they were told they are flawed. This resulted in the individual feeling shameful, incompetent, useless, and insignificant. These people engage in self-harm as a means of punishment for their imperfections.
Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm
Signs and Symptoms of self-harm vary depending on the individual, history of substance abuse, development of other coping skills, and also the method of self-injury. The most common warning signs and symptoms include:
- Low self-esteem
- Troubles handling feelings
- Unexplained frequent injuries like cuts, bruises, or cigarette burns
- Relationship problems
- Poor results at school, home, or at work
- Keeping themselves fully clothed at all times
- Lack of motivation
- Expressing a wish to hurt themselves
- Social withdrawnness
- Unusual weight loss or weight gain
- Signs of alcohol of drugs misuse
- Excessive rubbing
- Keeping sharp objects at hand
- Broken bones
- Internalized hostility
- Severe feelings of distress, guilt, as well as shame
If someone struggles with signs and symptoms of self-harm, it’s important they seek help as soon as possible. It is suggested to consult a mental health professional with self-injury expertise. The first step is assessment, followed by a continuum of care to prevent relapse. This treatment will teach the individual how to develop healthy coping skills and identify root issues that led to the creation of distress and pain.
Depending on the diagnosis, there are several types of therapy that can help, including:
- Dialectical behavioral therapy – the main objective of DBT is to change problem behaviors. Patients here will learn how to change their thought patterns and emotions and also reduce negative behaviors that result from those emotions.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy – its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior and so change the way they feel.
- Psychodynamic therapy – this type of therapy focuses on looking into past experiences and emotions in an effort to alleviate psychic tension.
Further coping mechanisms that a therapist might suggest are:
- Painting, drawing or writing
- Listening to music
- Taking a hot bath
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
Usually, rehab for self-harm takes place in a period of 30-90 days, depending on the severity of the issue. The rehab program will address underlying issues that have led to self-harm. Furthermore, this rehabilitation will provide the mental, emotional, as well as the physical support individuals need in order to obtain long-term recovery.
There are various types of rehabilitation facilities, including:
- Outpatient treatment – these rehab programs allow individuals to continue to live at home during recovery and tend to cost less than residential treatment.
- Inpatient treatment – the person resides at the facility for the whole duration of the program. Most programs last from 28 to 90 days depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. This kind of rehab programs provide 24/7 care from a professional staff
There are specific components of the recovery offered at these rehabilitation centers that provide the longest lasting benefits, including:
- Outpatient counseling
- Participation in support groups like Self Mutilators Anonymous
- Aftercare plans with support for the individual’s new self-management skills and behaviors
For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.