What is self-abuse or harm? Self-harm in adults and other ages occurs when people hurt themselves intentionally. Although people typically keep their self-harm a secret, it is not uncommon. This is especially true among adolescents and young adults, and some parents see it in preteens and even kids under the age of 10 sometimes. There may be a wide range of reasons why people harm themselves. Mental illness, bullying, low self-esteem, and other actions or emotions that are negative can contribute to self-harming behaviors.

what is self abuse

What Are Some Self-Harming Behaviors?

There are several ways that people may harm themselves. It is important to know the different types of self-harming behaviors to better identify symptoms in a loved one. These are some common types of self-harming behaviors:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Piercing
  • Scratching
  • Self-hitting
  • Taking harmful substances

Although bodily mutilation is a common form of self-harm, many people turn to drugs, alcohol, or toxic substances. For example, a teenager may drink cleaning fluid that is toxic. Another person may consume enough alcohol to warrant a trip to the emergency room, and another person may take a dangerous dose of an illegal drug or a prescription drug.

Signs of Self-Harm

Self harm in adults and children can show itself through daily signs. People who suspect that a loved one, a classmate, a colleague, or a friend may be inflicting self-harm may see multiple signs. These are some examples:

  • Scars that may be in odd patterns.
  • Frequent and fresh cuts.
  • Statements of hopelessness and worthlessness.
  • Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts even in hot weather.
  • Frequently talking about accidental injuries.
  • Rubbing skin excessively to cause a burn.
  • Guarding a drawer, a bag, or another place where a substance or a knife may be kept.
  • Keeping a blade, a lighter, or another object for self-harm on hand at all times.

If you notice any of these signs in a loved one, they may be struggling with a self-harm problem. 

What Are Some Reasons for Self-Harming Behaviors?

The causes of self-harm often depend on the age of the person. For example, self-harm in adults may be due to stresses of work and marriage, and self-harm in teens may be from bullying. According to self-reports from patients and analyses from professionals, these are some common reasons for self-harm:

  • Trying to get attention for help
  • Attempting to suppress traumatic or upsetting memories
  • Trying to feel something because of feelings of emptiness or numbness inside
  • Trying to inflict self-punishment or release angry feelings
  • Attempting to feel a sense of control

Effects of Self-Harm and How They Lead To Substance Abuse

Self-harm in adults can have physical and psychological effects. The physical effects depend on the form of self-harm. For example, people who cut themselves will have scars. People who consume harmful substances may experience brain damage or altered cognition on a short-term or long-term basis. The physical effects of self-harm often lead to the psychological effect of shame. People may feel ashamed of their scars or that others know about their self-harm.

People who harm themselves tend to spend a lot of time alone. They may sacrifice a job, family relationships, friendships, and other connections. One serious risk of perpetual self-harming behavior with mental illness is suicidal ideation or attempting suicide. However, it is important to note that not all people who are prone to self-harm are suicidal.

Understanding Substance Abuse and Addiction

Substance abuse is when someone misuses a substance, and addiction is when a person is unable to stop using it. When people misuse substances, they may take a higher dose, take doses more often than recommended or use a substance that they do not have a medical need for. A person who misuses alcohol may drink an entire bottle of wine in an hour instead of one glass.

For another example, someone who has surgery and receives prescription painkillers temporarily may take them too frequently after building a tolerance. The person may continue taking them, even after the pain is gone, by obtaining them illegally from someone else. When substance abuse turns into addiction, it requires professional treatment. Addiction is a brain disease and it is a chronic and relapsing one. Substances alter the way the brain perceives pain and rewards, and it affects the parts of the brain that control judgment and impulses. People who are addicted to substances may behave irrationally, impulsively, or even violently.

Signs of Substance Abuse

It is often difficult for people to admit and recognize when they are misusing a substance. If a concerned loved one brings up a possible substance use disorder, a person with a substance problem may react with defensiveness or rationalization. These are some signs that a person may have a substance use disorder: 

  • An unusual and sudden lack of personal hygiene.
  • Withdrawal from family obligations and social groups.
  • Lack of interest in work, school, or hobbies.
  • New legal or financial troubles associated with using or buying the substance.
  • Closely guarding the bag, room, or other location where the substance is kept.
  • Mood swings and unusual behavior.

Unusual behavior may be lethargy, sleepiness, talkativeness, or excessive energy. The type of substance and its actions determine the behavioral changes in a person.

Why Self-Harm and Addiction Create a Dangerous Combination

In one study, researchers found some interesting trends among people who used substances, people who injured themselves deliberately, and those who did both. They found that substance abuse was linked to a wide range of behaviors and situations, but self-harm was always connected to negative emotions. When people experience negative emotions perpetually, those emotions can turn into depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder.

For some people, cutting can be addictive if they have intrusive negative emotions often. Many people who inflict harm on themselves have an underlying mental health issue or multiple issues. Some have PTSD from childhood abuse, and others may have depression, BPD, or another mental health issue that may or may not be undiagnosed.

When people have depression or another mental health issue that comes with negative emotions and pain, they often turn to substances. Add the negative brain-related effects of addiction, and it is easy to see how violent or impulsive behavior can be dangerous. The dangers of cutting yourself and bleeding excessively or fatally while abusing a substance are higher.

One person may take opioid painkillers to feel euphoric because of constant feelings of fear and shame after childhood trauma. Another person may drink excessively to numb the pain of depression after a divorce. While some people struggle with situations, others struggle with daily life in many ways for their entire lives. They often turn to addictive substances or practices, like self-harm, to dull the pain. When people use substances to battle emotional turmoil, and they harm themselves because they feel empty, self-harm and substance abuse can create an endless cycle.

Treating a Self Harm Problem and Substance Abuse

The dangers of cutting yourself go beyond bleeding when you become addicted to a substance. It is important to seek help for both issues at the same time. Detox is the first and most important step. During detox, a person’s body naturally cleanses itself from harmful substances. In a detox facility with medical supervision, staff monitor people 24/7 to watch for negative effects. They can provide medication and supportive care to help people get through the unpleasant phase of detox.

Because the effects of detoxing from some types of substances can be painful and dangerous, it is critical to have medical supervision. This is especially true for someone prone to self-harm. A person who is stopping an addictive substance may feel much more depressed than usual, and if that person tends to self-inflict harm, the results can be dangerous without supervision. Once detox is over, the individual can seek ongoing help for the self-harm problem.

Finding Treatment for Self Harm and Substance Abuse in South Florida

If you or someone you know is ready to get clean from alcohol or drugs, Coastal Detox is here to help. Our facility is serene, welcoming, and safe. We have a team of professionals who work together to ensure that detox is as safe and comfortable as possible. Our facility uses medication-assisted treatment to ease symptoms of withdrawal. We use a holistic approach to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit during detox.

Our team is sensitive to the needs of individuals and understands how addiction and self-harm affect each person differently. We learn about each person’s past struggles, present needs, and future goals. Also, our team is skilled at helping people who suffer from mental health issues and addiction find simultaneous treatment for both issues.
Our Stuart facility welcomes locals and people from other parts of Florida. Many people still have concerns, such as understanding what is self abuse or how to identify other possible signs of self-harm in adults. If you have any questions or want to learn more about our treatment options, please contact us.