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What You Need to Know About Self-Harm & Addiction

If ever there were two things society does not want to talk about, self-mutilation and addiction are definitely towards the top of the list and it's a grave injustice to the people struggling through both disorders.

In fact, those with substance use disorders, and people who engage in self-harm may suffer from the same underlying causes. Both addiction and instances (or habits) of self-harm manifest as a desperate attempt to quell internalized conflict and outward strife. In more cases than one might imagine, self-harm and substance use disorders go hand in hand; many cutters turn to substance abuse as a means of relief, and vice versa.

What you need to know about both self-harm and addiction is each condition is a legitimate disorder, often requiring extensive therapy. Those who no longer actively self-harm may immediately turn their thoughts to cutting in times of stress, and are prone to relapse just like those with a history of substance use disorders.

Self-harm typically includes cuttingbitingburninghead bashingskin picking, incessant scratchinghitting oneself, and poisoning. What is substance abuse if not a slow and sometimes willful poisoning of the body?

Don't misunderstand this: once instances of substance abuse turn into substance use disorders (or addiction) the poisoning of the body is no longer "willful," as it may have been at one time. Addiction is a disease.

Instances of co-use disorders, or dual diagnosis patients may suffer from both self-harm and addiction, and require specialized treatment to get to the bottom of each condition, which may take on separate lives. It's possible to treat one, but neglect the other. Without proper treatment of both conditions, relapse of either addiction or self-harm is more likely if one equates self-harm as a precursor for substance abuse (or vice versa).

Self Harm2
(Source: Harbor Village Detox and Treatment Center)

Cutters are often considered either suicidal or attention seeking. This is not the case. Cutting is not indicative of suicidal behavior. Akin to taking addictive drugs, cutting (or other outlets of self-harm) helps those engaging in self-mutilation feel better and cope with their emotional turmoil. This is one of the more difficult instances of cutting to understand, as it is counterintuitive, and perverses our primal instincts for self-preservation.

Cutting serves as a release for the emotions one is otherwise unable to express. Many suffer from self-harm (or are more susceptible to the disorder) because they are not effective communicators. This is also true for those with substance use disorders.

Cutting is an attempt to cope with life's traumas. Suicide is the attempt to end life's traumas.

Self Harm3
(Source: Harbor Village Detox and Treatment Center)

Those who assert self-harm are a cry for attention causing irreparable damage in many cases. This notion has become a stigma surrounding cutters who are ultimately unable to admit to their problems- often obscured in the secrecy of clothing. Because cutters do not wish to be branded as "attention seeking," it's common for families, friends, and loved ones to have no idea what's going on.

In fact, cutters need to be heard, but are often unable to speak up for themselves, or seek the help they need because the guilt of cutting is too great and often leads to more mutilation. This thought pattern mirrors both drug and alcohol addictions. Many cutters feel the need to punish themselves, because they feel they are unworthy of love, merit, or consideration. (Another key facet of addiction use disorders.)

Self-mutilation and addiction require careful treatment and empathy. Because both disorders are frowned upon publicly, many will go without treatment and continue their habits until an accidental overdose or the slip of the knife too deep.

Help end the stigma. Be kind. Be compassionate. Stifle your judgement.  Ask how you can help.

Sometimes you won't get an answer, but your presence may be the exact gift someone desperately needs.

Above content is provided by Harbor Village Detox & Treatment Center.

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