Is It Possible to Be Addicted to Self-Injury?

January 16, 2012 Becky Oberg

Can we be addicted to self-injury? Could the act of self-harm effect us like alcohol or a drug? Recently my therapist and I have begun to work on my addiction to alcohol. One session went particularly rough and left me craving a stiff drink. However, I also wanted to self-injure. It was my way to cope, my way to deal with the pain. I then asked, "Could I be addicted to cutting?" Is it possible to be addicted to self-harm?

The Addictive Personality and Self-Injury in BPD

According to, one symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is "impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging." This often manifests as substance abuse, or addiction. While self-injurious behavior (SIB) is not included in this criterion, the addictive personality exists if the person meets this criterion. SIB, another criterion for BPD, can easily take the place of a substance.

A person addicted to SIB likely has his or her rituals. He or she probably has a favorite method, such as cutting, burning or banging his/her head. He or she probably has a favorite knife or a favorite lighter. He or she probably has a ritual, always starting and finishing in the same place. This person can become very upset if this pattern is interfered with.

While the person has a preferred mode of operation, it is not essential. Someone who is addicted to SIB will self-harm in any way possible, in any place possible. The important thing is the SIB and the feelings surrounding it, not the means.

Why Self-Injure With BPD or Without It?

It's been said that SIB causes the body to release endorphins, the same chemicals responsible for the "runner's high." These chemicals basically cause the body to feel good. This is why many people self-injure--to feel good. I've often heard it said "I want to feel something instead of nothing."

I self-injure because I'm afraid. I believe that if I am not afraid of physical pain, I can override the emotional pain from the situation and take action to protect myself and my loved ones. I blame myself for not being able to protect my friends and family, so I do what I feel I must to become strong and silence the voices saying "You failed to keep them safe, it's your fault."

I also self-injure because it is a way to ground myself, or get my body and mind back into reality during a dissociative episode. Again, it's taking action to protect myself--I'm extremely vulnerable when I dissociate. If I'm not vulnerable, then I can be strong and protect myself and my friends and family.

Confronting the Addiction to Self-Injury

I wish I knew how to do this. So far, I'm treating it like I treat my alcoholism--call for help when needed, try to use willpower, and discuss it in therapy. That's about all I can ask of myself.

I believe that knowing the reason for an addiction is a powerful tool in defeating it. If admitting your problem is the first step in recovery, then understanding it is the second. This is not always easy to do--addiction is cunning, powerful and sneaky. However, understanding the reason for the addiction is a powerful tool in fighting it because you know what your weakness is. You know what need you're trying to meet, and you can find other ways to meet that need. An example in my case might be studying martial arts. If I feel vulnerable, perhaps I can find empowerment in studying self-defense.

Your case may be different. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you might not work for me. But there are some common similarities in fighting an addiction to SIB--we must recognize that we have a problem, learn how to manage the symptoms of that problem, and live in recovery one day at a time. We mustn't be to hard on ourselves when we relapse, and we must always be willing to give ourselves a second chance.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2012, January 16). Is It Possible to Be Addicted to Self-Injury?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Amy Karon
January, 20 2012 at 6:54 am

Wonderful post. I'm so glad you're speaking openly about self-injury, a problem that's increased on college campuses (I'm a journalist who writes about mental health and is currently working on a series about college mental health services). Self-injury is, unfortunately, still so taboo to discuss and I think that gives it added power.
I wonder if some people who self-injure could benefit from finding other ways to ground themselves in their body. For me, yoga in a group setting is tremendously helpful, allowing me to switch the channel and simply enjoy physical sensations when I'm mired in negative thoughts. Meditation also helps me watch impulses and learn to tolerate them without reacting to them. But as you say, everyone is different. Learning to be gentler with ourselves is, perhaps, the only common denominator.

January, 19 2012 at 6:06 am

I understand what you mean...I went months without cutting and burning. The other night I did both...not too bad, but the high was a tremendous feeling. I use writing to help me deal with my feelings when they become overwhelming. Unfortunately, I did not do that nor did I tell my therapist that those feelings of cutting were getting very powerful. I have a website/blog of my own; That helps me and my walk with Christ. I wish I would have tapped into my relationship with Him that night, but I am learning we all make mistakes, but we are not a mistake!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Becky Oberg
February, 1 2012 at 5:54 am

Thank you for sharing your struggle.

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