The Connection Between Self-Harm and Addiction

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of death and injuries in the United States, and it’s more prevalent than you may think. Over 52 million Americans are struggling with mental illness. Even worse, that may be an underestimate. Some of the most common effects of mental illness are self-harm and addiction. Let’s talk about the two, how they are connected, and what you can do to find treatment.

What is Self-Harm

Self-harm or self-injury is when a person hurts themselves on purpose. The self-inflicted injury is a coping mechanism and is not intended as a suicide attempt. One of the most well-known forms of self-harm is cutting, but it is far from the only one. Forms of self-harm include:

  • Cutting or carving into skin
  • Scratching skin
  • Burning skin
  • Pulling out hair
  • Picking at existing wounds or injuries
  • Hitting oneself
  • Piercing skin

Anything a person does to intentionally inflict physical pain on oneself is considered self-harm. Typically, people choose to self-harm in the absence of healthier coping mechanisms. Some people may choose to numb or overpower emotional pain, forget about problems, or other reasons.

Self-harm is often addictive on its own. It releases endorphins and neurotransmitters in our bodies that can lead to physical addiction, as well as psychological dependence due to the intended effect of self-harm. For example, somebody may use it as their primary coping mechanism. In any form, self-harm is extremely dangerous and requires immediate treatment.

Self-Harm Prevention

Much like preventing other negative behaviors and conditions, you can prevent self-harm with education, support, and preventative measures. It’s impossible to tell if somebody is struggling, even if you think you know them well. We are all experts at hiding what we don’t want others to see.

It’s essential to take preventative measures for those at the greatest risk. Self-harm is most prevalent in females aged 16 to 24, but it is certainly not limited to this group. Those with histories of trauma, mental illness, or suicidal thoughts or behaviors are generally most at risk.

Moreover, if you believe that a loved one is at risk for self-harm, look for possible signs and consider finding help. Even if they have not yet engaged in self-harm, there is nothing wrong with finding treatment for mental health conditions or trauma.

What Is Addiction?

Substance use disorder, or SUD, is one of the most common health conditions plaguing the world. Research shows that 1 in 10 Americans will experience SUD throughout their lives. Addiction covers a wide variety of topics. SUD can include prescription medications, illicit drugs, and alcohol, but addiction can also include behaviors related to porn, sex, or gambling.

Addictions do not heal themselves, which is why they require treatment. Instead, addictions only become worse and more dangerous when left untreated. While nobody is ever “cured” of addiction, many who undergo treatment go on to live successful lives.

Addiction Prevention

Prevention is the key because never beginning to abuse substances is the best way to prevent addiction, which is easier said than done. Mental illnesses, peer pressure, life stresses, and a lack of support systems can all lead to substance abuse. This could be as a form of self-medication, social pressures, escapism, or simply experimentation.

Anybody can fall victim to addiction without the proper education and support system. Addiction does not discriminate based on age, gender, race, or other identities.

The Link Between Self-Harm and Addiction

Not everybody who self-harms engages in substance abuse. Conversely, not everybody struggling with addiction will self-harm. However, there is still a notable link between the two afflictions. Typically, this is in the form of mental illness.

Mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and others, put individuals at a greater risk of developing substance abuse or self-harming behaviors. In most cases, this is due to a lack of other coping mechanisms. High-stress levels, numb feelings, and general sadness are the most likely causes. When people cannot find positive outlets to cope, they are more likely to turn to negative outlets in the absence of a positive one.

Finding Help For Self-Harm and Addiction

If somebody is addicted to a substance, finding treatment is essential. If somebody is struggling with addiction and self-harm tendencies, time is of the essence. For the best results, individuals will require dual diagnosis treatment. These programs seek to treat both addiction and coinciding mental illnesses. Without treating mental illnesses along with addiction, the underlying cause continues to persist.

Essentially, you can’t treat one without the other. Therefore, finding a program that covers your needs is imperative. Also, make sure you find a program that meets other needs. This could include specialized programs based on gender identity, religious beliefs, or anything important to you that impacts your life. Regardless of your specific needs, finding treatment is the first step to a new and improved life, so make the call today.

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one struggles with self-harm and addiction, there’s no time to waste. Finding treatment is essential for health and safety. Again, those who seek treatments routinely go on to live fulfilling and successful lives. Find out what’s ahead for you by taking the first steps and finding help!

Stay up to date with our latest recovery tips, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or for help finding a program for you or your loved one!

Medically Reviewed: January 3, 2023

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer | CWC Recovery Staff

Clinical Team

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Content on this page has been reviewed by CWC Medical Staff for accuracy.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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