Not all people addicted to substances self-harm and not all people who self-harm become addicted to substances. However, there is a correlation between the two. While self-harm is not a symptom of addiction, there is a connection between the two.
Why is there a connection between addiction and self-harm? There are a number of potential explanations. Before delving into them, it is important to clarify what we mean when we talk about self-harm.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm or self-injury is a condition in which people purposely hurt themselves. This takes the form of actions like cutting, burning, and hair pulling, among others. Self-harm was seen as a symptom of a number of mental illnesses in the past. Today, it is considered a condition of its own, called nonsuicidal self-injury disorder.
Self-harm and addiction can therefore be seen as co-occurring disorders, and they will be treated together in dual-diagnosis treatment centers.
How are Addiction and Self-Harm connected?
When it comes to co-occurring disorders, there is not always a connection. However, it is often one condition which triggers another. For example, many people suffering from insomnia become addicted when they self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to try and get to sleep.
The addiction between self-harm and addiction is less clear, partly because self-harm is often misunderstood. Many people think self-harm occurs only in the context of suicide attempts. Many more think that it is nothing but a ploy for attention. The reality is that it’s more complex.
Self-harm is most commonly a way of finding relief, used by people struggling with extremely painful emotions. Research shows that there is a physiological explanation behind the urge to self-harm and the reason it provides some relief. So, while self-harm can in some cases be a cry for help, it is usually a misguided coping mechanism for people who feel desperate.
It is in this way that it is similar to addiction. Substances are used by addicts in place of healthy coping mechanisms. In addition to the physical dependence on the substances, addicted people turn to them when they are struggling with painful emotions.
With both self-harm and addiction, these coping mechanisms cause more damage than anything else, with diminishing returns when it comes to providing relief. Some people turn to self-harm when substances are no longer providing that relief, and vice versa. Treatment for self-harm and addiction is therefore connected as well, as the person suffering is taught healthy coping skills.
Addiction and self-harm are connected, although they do occur in isolation to each other. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction and/or self-harm, get in touch with a licensed professional today.