How Women Experience Self-Harm and Addiction

self-harm and addiction

In the absence of a healthy outlet for complex emotions like frustration, anger, self-loathing and hopelessness, some people choose to deliberately hurt themselves through methods like burning, scratching, cutting or hair-pulling. It can be difficult to understand what might cause someone to turn to self-harm when most mentally healthy people actively try to avoid pain. In observance of Self-Harm Awareness Month this March, learn what leads to this habit and factors that might make women uniquely vulnerable to it.

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm involves routinely inflicting damage that results in pain, bruising, scarring or bleeding, but it’s essential to note that people who self-harm do so without suicidal intent. Self-harming behavior can be challenging to identify, as it tends to take place in private. Also, many women who self-harm take care to create the injuries in areas they can hide under their clothes.

Various biological and environmental risk factors may cause someone to self-harm, including:

  • Having friends or family members who self-injure
  • Experiencing stressful events like trauma, abuse, family volatility and doubt about sexual identity
  • Social isolation
  • Emotional dysregulation, or difficulty recognizing different emotions
  • Mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and personality disorders
  • Substance abuse

Why Do Women Self-Harm?

Statistics from the American Psychological Association indicate the majority of Americans who self-harm are women. Self-harm alone is not a mental illness. However, it can be a warning sign of several mental health issues, including borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and PTSD.

Women who have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse are often at a higher risk for self-harm. Many times, this behavior has roots in overwhelming desperation or anguish. Some women may deliberately burn or cut themselves because the pain gives them a sense of clarity or control.

Self-harm can create intense shame and guilt, which can, in turn, cause women to keep hurting themselves as a form of punishment. The behavior can become a self-sustaining cycle or even a ritual that women feel they must perform to feel “normal.” Self-harm isn’t necessarily a cry for help or an indicator that someone you care about is experiencing suicidal ideation. However, it is a red flag of intense emotional upheaval.

Addiction Compounds Self-Harm Problems

There is also a link between addiction and self-harm. People who use cutting, burning and other forms of injury as a coping mechanism may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol for many of the same reasons. In some extreme cases, women who self-harm might drink or take drugs to poison themselves.

Women who engage in self-mutilation under the influence of drugs or alcohol are also more likely to severely injure themselves because these substances lower inhibitions, slow reaction times and numb nerve endings.

Getting Help for Yourself or a Loved One

Women who self-harm and abuse intoxicants can benefit from undergoing gender-specific treatment to teach them how to replace destructive behaviors with healthy coping mechanisms. At New Found Life, we have crafted a compassionate culture where women can feel safe and confident about confiding their concerns and forming connections with peers who have experienced many of the same issues. To learn more about treatment options and verify your insurance coverage, contact us today.