The Link between Self-Harm and Drug Addiction | The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake

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Updated 05/18/2023

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Self-harm occurs when people deliberately hurt themselves in some way, but are not suicidal. The most common self-harming behavior is cutting, followed by ingesting toxic substances (poisoning). Other self-harming behaviors include hair pulling, burning, head banging, and hitting yourself.

While drug abuse is not considered self-harming behavior, in many cases the two behaviors appear together in an addict. Certain drugs appear to cause or encourage self-harming behavior, and some of the reasons for both using substances and engaging in self-harm can be similar.

Drug Abuse and Self-Harm: Similar Needs and Motivations

Most people who self-harm do so to release pressure or pain they feel. Both self-harm and drug abuse are seen as ways to escape from unwelcome thoughts, pressures, or circumstances of life. Both are ways to self-medicate when psychological disorders may be present. Self-harm can become an addictive behavior or a compulsion much like substance abuse.

Although the primary motivator for self-harm is not suicide, those who self-harm may become suicidal or may accidentally self-harm in a dangerous or life-threatening way. Drug abuse may exacerbate these risks by numbing some of the pain so that you self-harm more, or may cause you to react more slowly to the results of self-harm so that your life becomes endangered.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.

Self-Harm Risks Compounded By Drug Addiction

Those who abuse drugs are more likely than others to self-harm. Some kinds of drugs are particularly dangerous when combined with self-harming behaviors. Amphetamine use has been linked to severe cases of self-harm like cutting off hands and even castration. It appears that amphetamine use may even bring on self-harm in some people who otherwise did not engage in it.

Benzodiazepine use may also be linked to self-harming behaviors, particularly withdrawal from use, which often causes depression that can lead to self-harm in some cases. Some users may even intentionally overdose on benzos as a way of self-harming. These effects can even happen when using benzodiazepines under a doctor’s care.

Alcohol use has also been linked to self-harming behaviors because many self-harmers are also problem drinkers. Additionally, self-harm often occurs while under the influence of alcohol. Females in particular, who are already more likely to self-harm, have shown marked increases in rates of alcohol use and self-harm together.

Treating Self-Harm With Substance Abuse

Self-harm is often a symptom of a psychological disorder, and treating the underlying cause of the behavior may help to decrease or stop it. It is important that addiction treatment address all the factors that led to the addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown some success in treating self-harm and addiction, as has family therapy.

Uncovering past traumas that may be feeding both addictive and self-harming behaviors can also be an important part of treatment so that triggers can be handled in healthier ways. Learning to manage stress and frustration better can also be important in preventing further self-harming behaviors.

Recovery Village at Palmer Lake provides dual diagnosis treatment options for those who abuse substances and self-harm. Learn about admissions to our programs and how we can help you overcome both of these harmful behaviors on the way to a healthier life.

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