Though most people actively try to avoid physical pain, some turn to self-injury as an unhealthy outlet for coping with complex emotions. In observance of Self-Harm Awareness Month this March, learn what unique risk factors can cause someone to develop this habit.
What Is Self-Injury?
Though self-injury involves inflicting damage that results in pain, bruising, scarring or bleeding, people who self-harm do so without suicidal intent. Self-injury can be challenging to identify, since it usually happens in private. Furthermore, many people who self-harm take care to create injuries in areas they can hide under their clothes, such as on their arms or torsos.
Biological and environmental variables may cause people to self-harm, including:
- Having friends or family members who self-injure
- Experiencing stressful events like trauma, abuse, family volatility and doubt about sexual identity
- Social isolation
- Emotional dysregulation
- Mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and personality disorders
- Substance abuse
Why Do People Self-Harm?
By itself, self-injury is not a mental illness. However, it can be a red flag of several mental health issues, including borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and PTSD.
Often, survivors of trauma, neglect or abuse are at a higher risk for self-harm. The behavioral patterns associated with self-injury have roots in overwhelming desperation or anguish. Some people who purposely burn or cut themselves feel that the pain gives them a sense of clarity or control.
Intense shame and guilt can follow in the wake of self-harm, which can cause people to keep hurting themselves as a form of punishment. In this way, it can become a self-perpetuating cycle or even a ritual people believe they must perform to feel “normal.” While self-harm isn’t necessarily a cry for help or an indicator that someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, it signifies intense emotional upheaval.
Substance Use and Self-Injury
There is also a link between addiction and self-harm. Some people experience a rush of relief and calm as the pain recedes, which can cause cravings for an emotional release. They may also “self-medicate” with drugs and alcohol for many of the same reasons as they deliberately hurt themselves.
People who engage in self-mutilation while under the influence of drugs or alcohol are also more likely to severely injure themselves because these substances impair judgment, slow reaction times and numb nerve endings. For example, if a person cuts themselves while drunk or high, they may accidentally go too deep, causing a dangerous amount of blood loss.
Treatment for Self-Harm and Substance Use Disorder
Self-harm often obscures a more severe, unaddressed problem. A person may find self-injury briefly relieves their inner pain and turmoil. However, if they frequently harm themselves, they can become increasingly withdrawn and detached from the world around them, causing their mental well-being to worsen.
With a combination of evidence-based therapies and 12-step immersion, Cumberland Heights puts people with co-occurring mental and behavioral health disorders on the path to lifelong recovery. We are the first addiction treatment center in Tennessee to earn certification from the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Contact us to learn more about our recovery community and how we can help you – or someone you love – heal.