Is Self-Harm An Addiction?

ad·dic·tion

/əˈdɪkʃən/ Show Spelled [uh-dik-shuhn] Show IPA

noun

the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

Whether or not self-harm/self injury is an addiction is a highly contested topic, there’s no obvious answer and different organisations have different opinions.
On one hand SH is something that is very difficult to stop- I think very few people who have engaged in it found it at all easy to finish with the habit, and it seems to be that the longer you’ve hurt yourself for, the harder it is to stop.
The reason that SH works is that when you hurt yourself you get a rush of endorphins, this makes you feel good for a short period of time- you hurt yourself more and more to try and get that feelings again. Some people argue that this is a chemical addiction, others just suggest that the addiction is to the positive reaction and release of emotion.
There are many ways in which self-harming behaviour has similarities with other addictive behaviours:
  • Regular cravings
  • Emotional release when the behaviour is performed
  • Tension when abstaining
  • Wanting to stop but being unable
  • Cue dependence (being ‘triggered’)
  • Unable to think of other things when feeling the urge

I would argue- and I think I have argued in the past- that SH is an addiction. I know that when I was stopping I felt an incredible physical reaction to not hurting myself. I was shaking and feeling very rough and only hurting myself could make me stop feeling like that.

However, it’s often not clear when an addictive craving is simply a behavioural impulse, in other words- it’s hard to draw the line regarding whether it’s a craving making someone hurt themselves or whether it’s a learned behaviour.

As well as this classing something as ‘an addiction’ is a pretty heavy move to make, it can add a lot of stigma and misunderstanding to something that is already a difficult topic and shrouded in mystery.

Another point that’s important to remember is that self injury can turn into a ritualised process, meaning that it’s not an impulse but something that can be put off until the moment is right. This indicates that the harmer has some sense of control over what they’re doing.

There are arguments for and against calling SH an addiction- personally I would class it as one, for me it seems to tick most of the right boxes, but there a lot of people who would argue against that.

So, what do you think? Is self-harm an addiction? Do you think classing it as one would be a help or hindrance to sufferers?

’til next time,

Wren x

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3 thoughts on “Is Self-Harm An Addiction?

  1. I truly believe it is an addiction. I struggled with self injury for 10 long years and I can now say no and control myself when I feel an urge. There came a point where I had to do more to feel less and I had to do it every day to feel normal.

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