Substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring mental health conditions increase the risk of self-harming thoughts or behaviors. Self-injury does not necessarily indicate suicidal ideations. On the contrary, in most cases, self-harm is a maladaptive coping technique that works like an emotional release valve to let off pressure. According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, “about 6% of adults report a history of [nonsuicidal self-injury].” In due time, this can develop into a behavioral addiction or mental illness of its own. Newport Beach Recovery Center provides mental health support for clients that struggle with primary SUD and co-occurring nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI).

What Is Self-Harm?

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Self-harm refers to a person’s harming their own body on purpose.” Approximately “5% of people hurt themselves in this way.” Self-harming involves any action that causes physical damage to your body. A few of the most common forms of NSSI include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Biting
  • Scratching
  • Self-hitting
  • Banging body parts against objects to inflict damage or pain
  • Breaking bones
  • Inserting objects under the skin or into the body

People can be creative with how they inflict pain and harm themselves, especially if they are worried about family members or friends seeing indications of self-harm. The secrecy makes it especially challenging to identify and treat.

Why Do People Self-Harm?

Most people self-injure to find some relief when they feel emotionally distressed. In most cases, they begin self-harming during adolescence, and later in life, they may resume these behaviors to cope with acute or chronic stress.

The most common stressors that lead to self-harming behaviors include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event
  • Financial strain
  • Relationship issues
  • Pressure at work or school
  • Social stigmas

Families and friends might have difficulty understanding the connection between emotional distress and self-harm. If a person’s worried that someone they love has injured themselves by self-harming, they can provide the individual with resources and engage in active listening. It’s important to realize that having a friend or family member listen without judgment can lower their stress levels and decrease their risk of accidentally severely injuring themselves.

How Can Self-Harm Affect Recovery?

Adults with SUD have a higher risk of self-injury. However, using maladaptive coping mechanisms to function during recovery is not sustainable and often leads to relapse. Although self-injury may help a person temporarily feel more emotionally stable, it only compounds their mental health problems in the long run, making it harder to adopt a healthier lifestyle that supports long-term recovery.

People harming themselves can also alienate friends and family members who may not know how to react. Social stigmas surrounding self-harm make it a complex topic to discuss with loved ones.

3 Ways to Decrease the Risk of Self-Harm

If you engage in NSSI, you can decrease the risk of self-harm by practicing self-care and prioritizing your mental health. Firstly, you can seek help from a qualified mental health professional or a treatment facility. Additionally, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are essential for avoiding intrusive thoughts during treatment and ongoing recovery. You can use these tools and other skills to avoid slipping back into old behaviors. Lowering overall stress in your environment can also help you maintain emotional stability and reduce your risk of triggering a compulsion to self-injure.

#1 Communicate Your Needs and Feelings

Honest communication with your care team and support system can reduce the amount of stress you feel. Asking for help is essential when you feel like self-harming, and you might find it easier to tell peers, loved ones, or your therapist what you need if you regularly practice communicating your thoughts and feelings.

#2 Follow a Safety Plan

A safety plan involves a set of individualized steps you can follow during moments of emotional distress. The document can keep you from acting on impulses if you feel compelled to self-harm. When you have a history of substance abuse, intrusive thoughts like these can cause potential setbacks unless you follow your safety plan. If you don’t know how to build a safety plan, a therapist can help you create one.

#3 Identify Triggers and Practice Coping Skills

During treatment and ongoing recovery, many people encounter moments of emotional distress that can cause intrusive thoughts or compulsions. Identifying your triggers can help you create preventative strategies. Common triggers for self-harm include:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Cravings
  • Acute or chronic stress
  • Reminders of trauma

Many self-harm triggers are also relapse triggers. As such, they must be taken seriously. Many people find it helpful to write down a list of potential triggers they can avoid and address during individual therapy. The personalized care plans at Newport Beach Recovery Center ensure that clients receive the support and therapy they need to heal from past traumas or stress. You can use the coping skills you learn in treatment to find healthier ways to manage your stress.

Substance abuse increases the likelihood that an individual will develop self-harming tendencies and experience intrusive thoughts about injuring themselves. In the moment, people who self-harm may have difficulty judging their actions. Combined with low impulse control, this can cause accidental severe injuries or death. Rehabilitation provides you with the tools you need to cope with stress without reverting to self-harm. However, before you can fully heal and move forward, you should acknowledge the problem and openly talk with your support system about your self-harming thoughts. You are not alone, and you have the resources to stop harming yourself. At Newport Beach Recovery Center, we can show you better ways to overcome stress. We’ll help you find a healthier path to sobriety. To learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help, contact Newport Beach Recovery Center today by calling us at (888) 850-0363