Is Addiction a Form of Self-Harm?

Is Addiction a Form of Self-Harm?

March is Self-Injury Awareness Month, and we think there’s no better time to start the conversation and end the stigma surrounding this major issue facing individuals from all walks of life. As of the year 2016, the statistics surrounding self-harm or self-injury were staggering.

Self-Harm and Self-Injury Statistics:

  • Each year, 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-injury
  • 90 percent of people who participate in self-harm begin during their teen or pre-adolescent years
  • Nearly 50 percent of those who engage in self-injury activities have endured sexual abuse
  • Females comprise 60 percent of those who participate in self-injurious behavior
  • About 50 percent of those who engage in self-mutilation begin around age 14 and carry on into their 20s
  • Many of those who self-injure report learning how to do so from friends or pro self-injury websites
  • There are approximately two million cases annually in the U.S.

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Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV-TR) lists self-injurious behavior as a symptom of borderline personality disorder, but recent research indicates that it also occurs with other mental health disorders, including:

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In the name of awareness, we venture to ask:

Is Addiction a Form of Self-Harm?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), defines addiction as:

“A primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” (“American Society of Addiction Medicine”)

Wikipedia defines self-harm as:

“The intentional, direct injuring of body tissue, done without suicidal intentions.” (“Self-harm” 2018)

Therefore, physically speaking, the disease of addiction fits the definition of self-harm. Physical effects of addiction to drugs and alcohol can range from mild, short-term effects such as experiencing a hangover, to more severe long-term and fatal conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver.

Furthermore, much like other forms of self-harm, addiction can have far-reaching effects beyond that of the physical realm. Substance abuse can often be the cause or result of mental illnesses, thus leading to the co-occurrence of the two disorders. Also, eating disorders are co-occurring disorders which often manifest along with a substance abuse disorder.


Self-Harm Awareness and Addiction Awareness is Key

The repetitive and compulsive nature of self-harm is evident in addictive behaviors such as binge-drinking and drug overdose. The pattern continues as the behavior becomes more harmful over time. The harm that can even lead to death. In addition, the affected individual feels a short-term sense of fulfillment in each act of self-harm, whatever it may be, thus leading to the necessity of continuing to give in to addictive temptation.

In conclusion, about the disease of addiction and the consequences of self-harm, awareness, and understanding are critical. The only way to put an end to the pain and suffering of so many people is to break the stigma. People who are struggling with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other forms of self-harm should know that help is readily available. We should be encouraging them to seek it. Society as a whole must cease demonizing and shunning individuals who suffer from what is often considered an invisible disease. We must treat the mind with as much care and importance as we do for physical and visible ailments.

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