September 5th, 2023
Self-harm and addiction
Self-harm and addiction are complex, multifaceted issues that profoundly impact physical and psychological well-being. Both often respond to severe emotional distress and share several underlying causes and risk factors. Addiction is often described as a form of self-harm, and the link between these two conditions is intricate, but understanding it is crucial for effective intervention and prevention. At Oasis Runcorn, we have treated many people for addiction who also have co-occurring self-harm issues, and we are experienced in providing additional support before, during and after treatment.
The nature and definition of self-harm
Self-harm refers to intentional self-injurious behaviours typically performed to cope with overwhelming emotional pain or distress. It includes a wide range of actions, such as cutting, burning, scratching or other forms of physical harm directed towards yourself. The act is often an expression of deep emotional turmoil that the individual struggles to articulate or manage in a healthy way. While self-harm can affect anyone, it is most common among people who have experienced trauma or have underlying mental health issues.
There are several reasons why people might turn to self-harm, including:
- Regulation of emotions: Some people engage in self-harm as a way to cope with intense emotions or memories, as the physical pain can momentarily distract them from the emotional pain they are experiencing.
- Self-punishment: Others might use self-harm as a form of self-punishment, especially if they are dealing with feelings of guilt, self-hatred or worthlessness.
- Control and self-expression: For those feeling helpless or out of control in their lives, self-harm might provide a sense of autonomy.
- Communication of distress: In some cases, self-harm can be a silent cry for help, a way of showing others that they are suffering.
- Feeling real or feeling something: People who experience emotional numbness or dissociation might use self-harm as a way to feel real or feel something, even if it’s pain.
The complex link between self-harm and addiction
Self-harm and addiction share a complex relationship, with each often serving as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for the other. People may resort to substance use to escape the guilt and shame associated with self-harm, while self-harm may be a reaction to the feelings of guilt or shame often caused by addiction. Some people may also use self-harm act as an alternative coping strategy during the painful withdrawal stages of addiction. The comorbidity of these two conditions can create a vicious cycle that exacerbates each condition. Addiction can also be classified as a form of self-harm, as addiction is continuing to take substances or engage in addictive behaviour despite the harm it causes to yourself and your loved ones. This could be health issues, relationship problems or issues in your career, education or social life.
The dangers of self-harm during different stages of recovery
Self-harm can be a major issue in every stage of the addiction recovery process:
Self-harm and detox
During detox, the body rids itself of the addictive substance, which leads to physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be distressing, potentially prompting an individual to self-harm as a maladaptive coping mechanism.
At Oasis Runcorn, we understand clients’ vulnerability during this stage of recovery, so our clinical team closely monitors clients to mitigate distressing withdrawal symptoms safely and ensure that they don’t resort to self-harm to cope.
Self-harm and rehab
Rehab is the stage of recovery when the person learns to cope without addictive substances or behaviours by learning about the root causes of their addiction, developing coping strategies and making healthier lifestyle changes. The emotional turmoil that accompanies this process may trigger self-harm tendencies, particularly if the person struggles to make meaningful breakthroughs or lacks a robust support system.
Oasis Runcorn provides a range of proven therapeutic interventions to each client to help them understand the connection between self-harm and addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms. We also foster a supportive community within our facility to help clients feel connected and understood.
Post-rehab, the person may struggle with the ongoing challenges of sobriety and the potential for relapse. Self-harm may reemerge as a coping strategy during this stage, especially during periods of stress or emotional upheaval.
Oasis Runcorn’s aftercare programme provides ongoing support to all our clients in various forms, such as group therapy sessions and access to our Alumni Network. This prevents them from becoming isolated after leaving our centre so they can continue to get the help and advice they need.
Preparing for treatment
It is important to understand that self-harm issues must be under control before you begin addiction treatment because it can seriously affect your chances of a successful stay in treatment. This means speaking to a mental health professional, receiving a prescription for appropriate medication (if necessary), and engaging in therapy focused on self-harm behaviours prior to or in conjunction with addiction treatment.
Medication can include antidepressants, mood stabilisers, or anti-anxiety drugs, depending on the underlying issues driving the self-harm behaviours. Once you enter Oasis Runcorn, our medical team will ensure that you receive any prescribed medicine and receive any additional support required.
Effective therapies for recovery
While Oasis Runcorn is an addiction recovery centre, several rehab therapies provided as part of treatment programmes can also have major benefits for people suffering from co-occurring self-harm. These include:
Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
DBT is designed to address self-destructive behaviours like substance abuse and self-harm. It aids people in developing skills to withstand and endure emotional pain healthily. This enhanced tolerance helps break the cycle of addiction and self-harm when confronted with distressing emotions.
Mindfulness-based therapies cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, emotions and urges to help people better identify triggers that lead to substance abuse and self-harm. This then allows them to accept and observe their distress without reacting to it destructively.
Group therapy offers a supportive community of peers who are experiencing similar struggles, which can be especially helpful for those dealing with a dual diagnosis of self-harm and addiction. In a group setting, individuals can learn from each other’s successful strategies for managing harmful urges and gain a sense of home from others who are on the same path.
Recognising self-harm in a loved one struggling with addiction
Recognising self-harm in a loved one can be challenging, particularly if they are good at hiding it or downplaying its seriousness. Here are some signs that might indicate a person is self-harming:
- Unexplained injuries: Frequent or unexplained injuries such as cuts, bruises, or burns, often on the wrists, arms, thighs or chest.
- Wearing concealing clothing: Consistently wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants, even in hot weather, might indicate an attempt to cover up evidence of self-harm.
- Emotional instability: Rapid mood swings, withdrawal from friends and family and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
- Evidence of self-harm tools: Discovery of tools used for self-harm, like razors, knives or lighters, particularly if these items seem to be hidden.
- Substance abuse: If a person is known to have a substance abuse problem, it may be more likely they are using self-harm as a coping mechanism.
Remember, these signs don’t necessarily confirm self-harm but suggest something is wrong and the person might need help.
How to help a loved one with self-harm and addiction issues
If you suspect a loved one is self-harming, it can be difficult to know how to help. Here are some strategies to provide support:
- Show empathy and understanding: Let your loved one know that you’re there for them, that you care about them, and that they’re not alone.
- Avoid judgement: Don’t judge your loved one’s actions, as they’re likely already dealing with feelings of shame and self-loathing.
- Encourage professional help: Mental health and addiction treatment services can provide the necessary tools and resources to cope with self-harm and addiction.
- Educate yourself: Learn about self-harm and addiction to understand what your loved one is going through.
- Take care of yourself: Supporting a loved one who is self-harming can be emotionally taxing, so make sure you’re taking care of your own mental health too.
Begin treatment today
At Oasis Runcorn, we understand the unique challenges that self-harm can cause during the addiction recovery journey. We ensure that our treatment plans are holistic, compassionate and provide all the necessary support. We believe that everyone deserves the chance to regain control of their life and achieve long-term sobriety, free from the grips of both addiction and self-harm.
If you or a loved one are struggling with self-harm and addiction, don’t wait another day. Reach out to Oasis Runcorn today, and let us help you take the first steps towards a healthier, happier future.