The Addiction Of Self Harm

By Caroline Ketchum

The Addction Of Self Harm

"Research indicates that self-injury occurs in approximately as many as 4% of adults in the United States. Rates are higher among adolescents, who seem to be at an increased risk for self-injury, with approximately 15% of teens reporting some form of self-injury. Studies show an even higher risk for self-injury among college students, with rates ranging from 17%-35%."(Kerr, P. L., Muehlenkamp, J. J., & Turner, J. M. (2010). Nonsuicidal self-injury: A review of current research for family medicine and primary care physicians. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 23(2), 240-259.
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Self Destruction

Self Harm is defined as the intentional, direct injuring of body tissue, done without suicidal intentions. This can include hitting, banging ones head, burning, cutting with a blade, cutting into skin with ones nails, and other forms of self injury. Many people turn to self harm as a way of coping. Some use it as a way to escape, to punish oneself, to feel something, to avoid feelings they cannot cope with, and many other things. It is a widely misunderstood addiction. Many teens and even adults suffer with the obsessive need to harm themselves on a set schedule. Self harm is a problem as much as alcoholism and drug addiction and it needs to be addressed.
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In most cases self harm is accompanied with something else such as; bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders and many other things. Self harm can progress to such heights as suicide, hospitalization, infection from untreated wounds and eventual death. Many who suffer from self harm also suffer from suicidal ideation and while left untreated can progress drastically. People need to know the warning signs of self harm so that they can get that person the help that they need before it is too late.
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In extreme cases of self harm hospitalization is the only option to keep that person from irreparably damaging themselves beyond repair, or to save them. In these instances, hospitalization can either cause more harm than good, or help that person to stabilize by getting them the treatment that they need. There needs to be more awareness on what to do if you find out a loved one is self harming and how to deal with it without it harming the other person.
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Hair Pulling

Hair pulling can be a symptom of self harm as well as trichotillomania. One may use hair pulling to relieve stress or to harm themselves/punish themselves. It can also be part of some peoples anxiety attacks.
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Some of the deeper scars of self harm by cutting can cause a loss of feeling in the affected area. Some of the patches of skin may never heal correctly and this can cause even worse psychological damage to that person if they begin to recover in the future. Most who self harm in secret can be too afraid to contact someone if they notice something is wrong because they fear the judgement or that this instrument to fulfill their addiction will be taken from them. We need to be able to create a safe system in which they can trust without judgement, a system in which they can trust to get help not be judged.
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Cutting can be as small as just a few here and there, to the progression above and worse. There are more dangers to cutting then just the fact of the mental and physical scarring. This can lead to infection if it isn't cleaned properly, and even lead to nerve damage or death if it is deep enough or a vein is knicked. The after effect of scarring can cause great shame to those who have them from guilt of what they've done later on in life or even while it is going on from their peers. Instead of condemning those who suffer from this, we should offer them support and help.
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One form of self harm is bruising. The person may use many different things in order to cause bruising on their bodies. They may use objects, their fists, ram into things, or fall down the stairs on purpose. Most people may cover this by doing it in places not seen by others. They may wear long sleeves, or pants to cover up what they have done in order to be able to continue.
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Warning Signs

Some of the warning signs of self harm include but are not limited too; secretive behavior, wearing long sleeves even when the weather is hot in an attempt to hide the scarring, staring at or playing with scars, obsessions with whatever implement they choose to use, uncharacteristic behavior such as mood swings and engaging in other self-destructive behavior, some of which are drug use, alcohol abuse, starvation, purging, over eating and promiscuity. You may notice random cuts or bruises on the persons body and hear excuses such as, "I fell" or "The cat scratched me". Parents need to be able to recognize not just the physical evidence, but the mental and behavioral evidence as well.
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Destroying Things

Some of those who suffer from self harm addiction may have violent mood swings and preform irrational acts. They may punch walls to hurt themselves, bang their head against the wall, break mirrors with their fists, or even rip their hair out. Most parents don't notice until it is too late or find out from someone else that their child is doing it. Most people do not know that there are self mutilation support groups and other options to get treated.
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Most people fail to realize that with recovery comes relapses. It is not uncommon for someone who is a recovering alcoholic to fall off of the wagon, so why would it be uncommon for someone recovering from self harm to fall off too? Recovering self harm addicts may be too afraid of the judgement dolled out when relapsing and as a result may slip further and further into the well of self harm. People need to be made aware of the struggles that recovering self addicts go through so that they can better help those in need.