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Lily Lu, MBA, MA, MFTi Therapist San Jose Therapist
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Is Cutting an Addiction?

 

When a child engages in self-harm such as cutting, parents are bewildered, if not shocked, at such a behavior.

 

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a doctor and expert on this topic, who has appeared repeatedly on Good Morning America, said that “cutting is an impulse-control disorder—a psychological term loosely defined as the inability to resist acting on impulsive thoughts and often characterized by the intentional harming of oneself. Usually associated with trauma, cutting doesn’t start at any set age but, culturally speaking, tends to be associated with the pain of adolescence.” This is also considered as addictive as a narcotic because “when a person cuts, it calms them down, and that registers in the brain as a calming mechanism.”


According to Hokemeyer, cutting is calming because “the body releases endorphins, which are the body’s narcotic: they minimize pain by providing a sense of well-being.” Pain triggers our brains to release endorphins to soothe and energize us so we can take action to get out of harm’s way. Hokemeyer said that, in cutting, “the pain switches from being emotional to physical.” When the person sees blood coming out and thinks, ‘How great and absolute’, Hokemeyer explained that “it is satisfying on a certain level because physical pain eventually goes away while emotional pain feels as though it won’t—and it’s that uncertainty which is so unsettling. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

 

In the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual V (DSM-V), such behavior (along with burning, stabbing, hitting, excessive rubbing) is a proposed diagnosis called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). DSM-V is currently researching NSSI as a disorder that helps a person “obtain relief from a negative feeling or cognitive state, resolve an interpersonal difficulty, and/or induce a positive feeling state.” DSM-V also states that “because individuals with NSSI can and do attempt and commit suicide, it is important to check past history of suicidal behavior and to obtain information from a third party concerning any recent change in stress exposure and mood.”