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Mental Health Center

When Scab-Picking, Cutting Becomes Addictive

Many adolescents practice self-harm in an attempt to cope with pressure or emotions.
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Cutting Is Not a Suicide Attempt

"Many people are viewed as suicidal, but [self-harm] is much more of a self-preservation act," she says.

Steven Levenkron wrote the book(s) on cutting -- literally. Levenkron took a fictional look at the behavior in The Luckiest Girl in the World and examined it further in Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation. The USA network made a movie on his fiction called Secret Cutting.

"The first cut is a result of a large insult or catastrophe, and the second cut takes less provocation. The third cut takes even less, and the next thing you know you are cutting because you anticipate having a bad day, and after that they cut because they are at a low point in [their] mood cycle, and then finally they cut because its been too long since the last cut," Levenkron tells WebMD.

Who Cuts?

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, England.

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.

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