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Self-Harm and Substance Abuse

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Rehab Treatment for Self-Harm and Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Self-harm is a behavior pattern of individuals who deliberately hurt themselves so as to satisfy certain unrecognized urges. Self-harm and addiction often go together. Substance abuse can be seen as one type of self-injury. Persons who have a substance abuse issue are risking their health as drug and alcohol addiction may have a detrimental effect on both their physical and mental wellbeing.1

A major problem related to treatment of self-harm is that it usually goes unseen because people tend to do it when they are alone. The fact that they’re rarely open about this issue makes it even harder to address and treat. Signs of self-harm are mostly not easy to notice because people feel shame and try hard to hide them.1

Behavior that results in self-harm can sometimes be misdiagnosed as suicidal tendencies, although it can result in a suicide attempts in severe cases. Even if struggling individuals don’t see it that way, for most people harming themselves represents a cry for help. Although there are different types of self-harm, this problem can be overcome with the appropriate form of self-harm therapy.2

What Classifies as Self-Harm?

Any act of individuals deliberately hurting themselves is classified as self-harm. Self-harm is a behavior pattern and should not be equated with mental illness. It usually indicates that a person is seeking a solution to various emotional problems and is trying to cope with their life experiences.3

Even though the injuries are mostly minor, they can at times be severe and cause more harm than was originally intended. People who hurt themselves aren’t attempting suicide in a large number of cases. However, there’s a higher risk that they will attempt suicide if they don’t get some form of self-harm therapy.3 In many cases, it’s difficult to tell the difference between self-harm and suicidal tendencies, so the most important distinction becomes the intent.4

Statistics on Self-Harm and Addiction

There are multiple important facts and data on self-harm: 

  • There are several methods of injuring yourself with cutting being the most common one.5 
  • People with a history of self-harm are younger, typically married, unemployed, and living in an urban environment.6 
  • It’s estimated that 2% to 6% of the general public engage in self-harm at some point in their lives.7 These rates range between 13% and 35% for students.7 
  • Adolescent self-harmers are at increased risk of substance abuse and dependence syndromes in young adulthood.8

Different Types of Self-Harm

Behaviors that fit into this category are:

  • Cutting or piercing (with knives, razor blades, and other sharp or pointed objects).3
  • Punching or bruising (usually against walls or using blunt objects).3
  • Burning (with cigarettes, lighters, matches, and candles).3
  • Binge eating, deliberate starvation, or biting yourself.1
  • Pulling out your hair or stuffing objects into body openings.3
  • Abusing various substances and prescription medication.1
  • In most extreme cases, breaking of bones and even suicide attempts.3

Cutting or Burning the Skin

Cutting is usually done on an individual’s arms, legs, and torso because these marks can be covered with clothing. Girls aged 14-17 are hospitalized for self-harm 4 times more often than boys and are more prone to cutting, while males are more likely to hit or burn themselves.9

Substance Abuse

Almost 20% of people who visited the emergency department for self-harm injuries have had a history of suffering from substance abuse disorder.6 For this reason it is important to take self-harm into consideration when dealing with people who struggle with substance use disorders.6 This issue is best addressed by the clinicians who are already involved in caring for such patients.6

Deliberate Starvation

Eating disorder as a form of self-harm is more typical of females and it tends to occur during adolescence.10 People that suffer from eating disorders can engage in various unhealthy weight-controlling measures that can include fasting, starvation, forced vomiting, and laxative and diuretic abuse.10  

What Are Common Self-Harm Causes and Risk Factors?

There are many reasons why people decide to harm themselves. Injuring yourself can stimulate endorphins and pain-killing hormones and can improve the person’s mood. In other cases, it can cause individuals to feel something ‘real’ or ‘anything at all’ compared to the emotional numbness they might be feeling.2, 3

Some of the most common reasons include:

  • An attempt to deal with upsetting memories.3
  • A cry for help.3
  • As a way of dealing with feelings that are overwhelming (anger, fear, loneliness, or despair).3
  • As a form of self-punishment.3
  • A need to feel a sense of control.3
  • Overcoming intense pain, shame, or guilt.2 

People That Are Likely to Be at Risk of Self-Harm

Risk factors that are present in people who deliberately hurt themselves can be various. They can have their root an early age and be related to:5

  • Experience of childhood illness or surgery.
  • Different types of childhood sexual and physical abuse.
  • Some type of childhood trauma.

They can also be family-related due to a:5

  • Loss of a parent.
  • Existing substance abuse in the family.
  • Parental or spousal neglect.
  • Lack of strong family bonds.

Or they can include some other risks like:

  • Existing mental disorders (depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic, stress disorder, and certain personality disorders).3
  • Misuse of drugs and alcohol.3
  • Having friends who self-harm.3
  • Having low self-esteem or negative body image perceptions.3
  • Lack of impulse control.5

Connection Between Self-Harm and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and self-harm are frequently overlapping and can be the result of similar causes. Individuals with substance and alcohol abuse problems are an especially vulnerable population when it comes to self-harm. People can oscillate between those two, seeking a solution to emotional pain with one behavior pattern reinforcing the other.8

Alcohol and drug use results in loss of inhibition, which can increase impulsive, unpredictable,  and dangerous behavior. This is why addiction can at times cause more serious consequences than was originally intended.8 

Moreover, substance abuse can be a major likely contributor to the premature mortality and disease burden for people who are prone to harming themselves.8 If you feel that you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you might want to consider seeking help at one of the specialized addiction rehab centers where a team of professionals is ready to help you make the right step.

What Are the Most Common and Obvious Signs of Self-Harm?

You may tell that a person may be harming themselves if they:

  • Have cuts, bruises, or scars on a regular basis.3
  • Constantly wear long sleeves and pants even when the weather is hot.3
  • Frequently make strange excuses about different injuries and bruises.3
  • Insist on having sharp and dangerous objects at hand for no apparent reason.3
  • Look more withdrawn, reserved, and quiet than usual.5 
  • Suddenly stop participating in what used to be their regular activities.5
  • Have sudden mood changes and get angry or upset very easily.5
  • Start suffering from poor academic/school performance.5

How to Help Someone Who Self Harms?

Since individuals who engage in this type of behavior try to hide signs of self-harm, most people find out only once the person who is self-injuring discloses it.11 Once they open up, they tend to tell a family member or a friend first. For this reason, your reaction in these situations is very important and can be the deciding factor whether they will seek help or not.11

You may want to consider the following:2

  • Be serious but not gloomy, and do not avoid the subject.
  • Be nonjudgmental and openhearted.
  • Ask them how they are feeling.
  • Acknowledge their pain.
  • Tell them that you will be there for them.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.

When trying to help someone who self-harms, you should never dismiss them, try to avoid the conversation, or turn it into a joke because it can make them even more uncomfortable than they already are.2 Try to gently encourage them to get professional help without being too pushy or aggressive.2 You can also reach out to supportive admissions navigators who are available 24/7 to assist you or your close one by calling a helpline and seeking advice.11 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Self-Harm and Substance Abuse

Substance use disorders often go hand in hand with existing mental health issues. The combination of these two is called dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. People with a dual diagnosis have both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. Since there are many different combinations of comorbid disorders, symptoms may vary, and it can be hard determining which one developed first.12

There’s a clear relationship between substance use disorder and mental illness. The existence of a mental disorder may contribute to the development or intensification of substance abuse and vice versa. According to results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, up to 17 million adult US citizens have experienced a combination of mental health issues and substance abuse in 2020.12

For this reason, the best treatment approach is usually to treat both conditions simultaneously. When a patient receives treatment for both their mental illness and substance use disorder after an evaluation, it’s called integrated intervention. Most modern practices require that both issues be addressed simultaneously for better results and it’s important that people understand how these conditions affect one another.12

Residential Inpatient Self-Harm Rehab Treatment 

Although addiction is a chronic and relapsing issue, it can be treated in specialized programs and facilities such as inpatient rehab. In general, inpatient treatment is typically more intensive than outpatient and is more suitable for severe addiction cases.13 It involves patients staying 24/7 in residential treatment centers or hospitals, which enables them to receive the highest level of care available. This can make inpatient rehab costlier than outpatient programs, but the total cost will largely depend on the duration of stay.13

Inpatient treatment provides daily therapeutic activities, so attendees spend more time engaged in individual and group therapy than persons attending outpatient programs.13 Programs usually last a couple of months but can be longer if needed. Because most patients who enroll in inpatient self-harm rehab treatment also struggle with co-occurring conditions, inpatient treatment centers offer dual diagnosis services such as:13 

Patients who can benefit most from inpatient rehab treatment are usually individuals:13 

  • Who suffer from severe symptoms which make their everyday lives unbearable.
  • Who are deemed to be at a higher risk of suffering from relapse or have already experienced it.
  • Who are deemed to be at a higher risk of undergoing drug or alcohol withdrawal.
  • Who have previously tried some less intensive treatment options but haven’t been able to remain sober.
  • Who don’t have a stable, supportive, and safe home environment all of which can negatively impact their overall rehabilitation. 

Outpatient Treatment Centers for Self-Harm

For most people, finding the time and resources needed to attend an inpatient rehab facility can be an obstacle. In those cases, outpatient programs represent a good alternative. They differ in terms of intensity, duration, and total cost, but they offer much of the same in terms of available treatments and therapies.13

In general, outpatient programs are most suitable for those who need therapy for less-acute self-harm and addictions.13 During these programs, patients continue living at their own homes and attend scheduled sessions in a treatment center. This gives them the possibility to continue living their lives as usual. Outpatient treatment can in certain cases transition to aftercare programs that can vary in their intensity and length.13

Outpatient treatment is a good choice for individuals who:13 

  • Are not severely affected but have mild or moderate symptoms.
  • Are in the early stages of addiction.
  • Have a lower risk of suffering from relapse or withdrawal.
  • Have a strong support system in their everyday environment.
  • Don’t lack the motivation and discipline needed to maintain regular attendance and stick with the prescribed treatment.
  • Have various obligations or commitments that they don’t wish or can’t afford to break. 

How to Find Self-Harm and Substance Abuse Rehab Treatment Centers Near Me

If you want to find the right rehab treatment center, you can reach out to a trusted provider such as American Addiction Centers. In addition to exploring the services online, you can also call a specialized hotline number for individuals struggling with addiction

The AAC admissions navigators are experienced, knowledgeable, and caring professionals who can provide guidance, help you choose the right treatment facility, and start your recovery. There are only a few steps for getting into treatment:

Step 1: Reach out for help

Typically, admissions professionals are available to answer your questions 24/7. They will listen to you, discuss your possible concerts, and offer support and accurate information. All calls are 100% confidential.

Step 2: Undergo the pre-screening process

The pre-screening process will help professionals understand your mental state, physical limitations, and medical preconditions. They will assess your clinical needs and match you with the suitable treatment. At this stage, you can also discuss the appropriate payment method.

Step 3: Get a tailored treatment suggestion 

Based on your individual needs and medical situation, AAC navigators will provide you with a recommendation of which American Addiction Centers facility is the most suitable for you. You will have the opportunity to review it together and ask any questions you might have.

Step 4: Prepare for the trip

Once you have reviewed and agreed upon your treatment plan, all that’s left is to begin with the treatment. If you’ve decided to travel out of state to get the best care possible, you’ll need to prepare for the upcoming trip. The AAC team will provide you with an admission and travel schedule, give you advice on your packing list, and offer any further assistance you may need.

Step 5: Start your recovery

Upon arrival, an AAC admission navigator will guide you through the final medical screening and help you get settled and start your recovery.

Does Insurance Cover Self-harm and Substance Abuse Treatment?

A great number of health insurance plans offer some type of coverage for drug and alcohol addiction treatment.14 Health insurance may cover addiction and self-harm rehab treatments for individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford it. People who are unable to pay for treatment can apply for state-funded rehab that can provide them with free treatment or at a significantly reduced cost.14

You’ll need to be careful that there are no hidden loopholes that will stop you from getting the best care possible. Every case is different so insurance policies vary, but outpatient treatment is covered more regularly than inpatient treatment.14 In some instances, insurance will cover you only up to a certain amount or put a cap on the duration of your treatment.14 Feel free to call the AAC helpline for an in-depth check of your insurance benefits so you can decide what the best and most suitable treatment is for you.

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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