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addiction and self-harm
March 5, 2021

Exploring the Relationship Between Addiction and Self-Harm

Many activities can become habit-forming if you do them regularly, especially those that can divert your attention away from complex emotions or substitute for healthy coping strategies. Self-harm and addiction are closely linked behaviors. As we observe Self-Harm Awareness Month this March, what constitutes self-harm, and what are some warning signs of this problem?

What Is Self-Harm?

You might find it challenging to put yourself in the shoes of someone who would deliberately cut, bruise, burn or injure themselves. However, this phenomenon is more prevalent than you might realize. Though self-harm alone doesn’t constitute a mental illness, those living with existing challenges like depression, eating disorders and PTSD might be more susceptible to developing a pattern of self-mutilation.

It’s a common misconception that self-harm indicates suicidal thoughts and feelings. However, unlike with suicide, where the person seeks an escape by ending their life, self-harm usually provides a release or an outlet for suffering. People who self-mutilate may also do so because it gives them a sense of control amid chaotic circumstances. 

Addiction and Self-Harm Go Hand in Hand

Addiction is also a significant risk factor influencing whether someone will turn to self-harm. Addiction and self-harm are two of the most prominent examples of negative coping skills – things that might provide short-term relief from stress, anxiety and anguish, but that only create more pain in the future.

Like substance abuse, self-harm can become addictive for people who use it as an emotional escape. Those who rely on cutting or burning themselves to seek relief from their inner turmoil may turn to drinking and drug use for the same reason. Whether someone with self-harming tendencies progresses to substance abuse or vice versa, both can have dangerous consequences. Those who self-harm while they’re under the influence may accidentally injure themselves more severely than intended because drug and alcohol use lowers inhibitions and slows reaction time.

How to Talk to Someone About Self-Harm and Substance Abuse

Many times, self-harming behavior becomes a self-perpetuating pattern. The intense feelings of guilt and shame people experience after hurting themselves lead them to believe they have “earned” more pain because of what they’ve done. Breaking this cycle without support can become a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Mental anguish and trauma can cause someone to punish themselves because these conditions perpetuate a negative inner monologue that tells them they deserve to suffer. It can be challenging to identify when someone you care about is deliberately hurting themselves through self-harm and addiction because they’ll usually go to great lengths to hide the extent of their problems from others. People who deliberately hurt themselves usually wait until they’re alone to do so. They may also be careful to only leave cuts, bruises, burn marks and scars in places where they can conceal the marks under long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. 

If you’re concerned about signs of addiction and self-harm in someone you love, gently bring up the topic, and be ready to listen without judgment. You could start by saying something like, “You’ve been a little bit distant lately. Are you feeling OK?” One of the best things you can do is reinforce the message that you support your loved one’s need to seek treatment. If they seem amenable to the idea, offer to help them research places where they can get therapy for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Never react to destructive behavior by blaming or shaming people, and don’t try to force the issue, since escaping from the cycle of abuse requires far more than willpower alone.

Finding Lifelong Freedom at Beach House 

Since our founding in 2016, Beach House has maintained a singular focus on the goal of being the best addiction and mental health treatment facilities in the United States. Our commitment to using evidence-based, clinically excellent practices within a culture of love and compassion has made our Florida campus a nurturing place to recover from substance abuse and dual diagnoses. Contact our admissions team anytime to verify your insurance and learn about the Beach House difference. 

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