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Is Self-Harm Addictive?

Written by Dr. Anjali Talcherkar

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Self-harm, often associated with self-harm awareness month, is a distressing and concerning behavior that some individuals engage in as a coping mechanism for emotional pain. While self-harm may not be classified as an addiction in the traditional sense, it can become a compulsive behavior that provides temporary relief.

Self-harm and addiction are linked in some cases, as self-harming behaviors can become addictive due to temporary relief from emotional pain. Although not a substance use disorder, self-harm may involve addictive qualities, leading individuals to engage in repetitive and harmful behaviors as a coping mechanism.

The risk of self-harm relapse is prevalent, and it is essential to address underlying emotional issues and seek professional help to prevent self-harming behaviors from escalating or leading to suicidal ideation. Understanding the complexities of self-harm can facilitate effective interventions and support for those struggling with this harmful behavior.

What Is Self-Harm? 

Self-harm is a deliberate act of inflicting physical harm on oneself as a way to cope with emotional pain, distress, or overwhelming feelings. It is essential to raise awareness about this concerning behavior and provide support for those affected.

Facts and Statistics about Self-Harm Prevalence:

  • Self-harm affects individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
  • Self-harm is more common among adolescents and young adults.
  • The prevalence of self-harm varies, with reported rates ranging from 6% to 30% among adolescents and young adults.


Individuals experiencing emotional distress, trauma, or mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder, may be at a higher risk. It can affect people regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity.

Self-Harm Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing self-harm involves a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s mental and emotional well-being, taking into account their history and current circumstances. Treatment for self-harm often includes a combination of therapies, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Holistic interventions (yoga, mindfulness, meditation)
  • MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment)
  • Individual Therapy or counseling
  • Self-Harm support groups


Support from mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, is crucial in understanding the underlying reasons for self-harm and developing healthier coping strategies. Treatment may also involve medication management for underlying mental health conditions.

Addressing self-harm requires a compassionate and non-judgmental approach, providing individuals with the support and tools they need to manage emotional distress effectively and seek healthier ways to cope with life’s challenges.

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Why Do People Commit Self Harm?

Mental health issues can significantly contribute to self-harm or suicidal tendencies, reflecting the profound impact of emotional distress on individuals. Some of these mental health conditions include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


These mental health conditions can heighten feelings of hopelessness and despair, leading to self-destructive behaviors. The sense of overwhelming emotional pain and a perceived lack of coping mechanisms may drive individuals to engage in self-harm as a temporary escape or a way to gain control over their emotions. Recognizing the interconnectedness between mental health and self-harm is crucial to provide early intervention and appropriate support for those struggling with such tendencies, promoting better mental well-being, and fostering hope for recovery.

Is Self-Harm Addictive?

The DSM-5, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines addiction as a “substance use disorder” characterized by a cluster of symptoms related to the excessive use of drugs or substances, leading to impaired control, social and occupational dysfunction, and negative consequences.

While addiction typically refers to substance abuse, some individuals can develop addictive behaviors towards self-harm, a condition known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) or self-harming behaviors. These behaviors involve deliberately inflicting harm on oneself without suicidal intent.

Several mental health issues can contribute to the development of addictive self-harming behaviors including:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): People with BPD may engage in self-harm as a way to regulate intense emotions or cope with feelings of emptiness.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Individuals experiencing depression or anxiety may resort to self-harm as a maladaptive coping mechanism to alleviate emotional pain.
  • Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic experiences can lead to distressing emotions that individuals may try to manage through self-harm.
  • Eating Disorders: Conditions like bulimia or binge eating disorder may be associated with self-harming behaviors to cope with body image issues and emotional distress.
  • Impulse Control Disorders: Disorders like trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) or dermatillomania (skin-picking disorder) may involve self-injurious behaviors.

It is important to recognize that self-harming behaviors are not equivalent to substance use disorders but can have addictive qualities. Individuals engaging in self-harm may experience temporary relief or a sense of control over their emotions, leading to repeated behaviors. Addressing the underlying mental health issues through therapy, counseling, and support is crucial in helping individuals overcome self-harm and develop healthier coping mechanisms for emotional distress.

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Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a common and serious mental health condition affecting millions worldwide. According to the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is characterized by a persistent and pervasive low mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and a range of emotional and physical symptoms that impact daily functioning.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbances, either insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Physical symptoms like aches, pains, or digestive issues
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

It is essential to recognize that depression is more than just feeling sad; it is a complex and multifaceted condition that can significantly impact a person’s life. Identifying the signs and symptoms of depression is crucial in seeking timely support and professional help to manage and treat the condition effectively. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can lead to improved mental well-being and a better quality of life for those affected by depression.

Self-Harm Treatment at Footprints to Recovery

At Footprints to Recovery, we offer compassionate and specialized self-harm recovery programs. Our team of licensed professionals provides individualized treatment plans, evidence-based therapies, and a supportive environment to help individuals overcome self-harm behaviors. Through comprehensive care and guidance, we strive to empower our clients to find healing, hope, and healthier coping mechanisms.

We offer a comprehensive and personalized approach to depression treatment through various levels of care, including intensive outpatient program (IOP), outpatient program, and aftercare services. Our IOP program provides structured, intensive therapy during the day while allowing individuals to return home or to a supportive living environment in the evenings.

Our outpatient program offers flexible therapy sessions to accommodate work or school commitments while receiving ongoing support. Aftercare provides continued resources and support for individuals transitioning back into everyday life after completing a higher level of care. Our team of licensed professionals specializes in treating depression, using evidence-based therapies to address emotional distress, and helping individuals develop healthier coping strategies for lasting recovery and improved mental well-being.

If you are struggling with self-harm behaviors or other mental health conditions, Footprints to Recovery is here to help. Contact our caring support team at 888-501-7998 and begin your recovery now.


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