When Scab-Picking, Cutting Becomes Addictive
Many adolescents practice self-harm in an attempt to cope with pressure or emotions.
Self-harm can occur with other disorders such as depression,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictions, and eating disorders. It usually
starts around puberty and can get worse if not treated.
And "anybody could be doing it," Rosen says. "It's
more girls than boys, and more people start when they are 13 or 14, and
self-harm is associated with depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and a
history of trauma or abuse," Rosen says.
Women who are abused physically or verbally by their partner
are 75 times more likely to harm themselves, according to a study in the
Emergency Medical Journal. And men who harm themselves were more than
twice as likely to report partner abuse than their non-self-harming
counterparts, report researchers from Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge,
However, they are not sure if it's the chicken or the egg.
Either domestic abuse could lead to self-harm, or self-harm could be associated
with personality traits that make a person more likely to choose to be or stay
in an abusive relationship.
"There seems to be a high percentage of people who report
physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, but that doesn't have to always be the
red flag," SAFE's Conterio says. "Divorce can be a trigger, or
sometimes there is an ill child in the family where the healthy child is
neglected and may feel guilty, as in 'why I am I healthy? Why is my sibling
sick?' So they self-harm," she says.
You can tell by "unexplained injuries or injuries such as
'my cat scratched me' or hiding of arms or legs in warmer weather. I think if a
parent does suspect their child is self-harming, they should ask, 'Are you
hurting yourself?" she says. If they say yes, then get some evaluation to
see how serious it is, she recommends.
"Noticing a cutter in summer is easy as pie if they are
wearing short sleeves -- its 'gotcha,'" says Levenkron.
Parents and peers need to recognize the signs of distress
linked to cutting such as being increasingly anxious, depressed, unable to
handle feelings or emotions, and panicky.
"We try to help people understand why they do this and
develop strategies to manage the anxiety, [and] there is some sense that
medication can be helpful," Rosen says.
Cutting is often associated with other psychiatric illness, so
addressing other disorders can help stop the self-harm, he says.
SAFE offers a 30-day inpatient program for adolescents, and for
adults there is an inpatient/outpatient program.
With a combination of medications and therapy, Levenkron says
that 90% of self-mutilators in his practice give up the self-harming behaviors
within one year of treatment. This is followed by much longer period of time in
therapy to heal the underlying causes of these behaviors.
For more information, call SAFE at (800) DONT CUT or visit