Self-Harm and Substance Use Disorders: Need-to-Know Connections and Facts

Self Harm and Depression

Self-harm and substance use disorders are brutal reality for millions, including loved ones and friends. I haven’t mentioned them much here on Chipur; however, that’s been remedied thanks to a wake-up email. Cool thing is, the sender provided the content…

In more cases than one might imagine, self-harm and substance use disorders go hand in hand. Many who self-harm turn to substances as a means of relief, and vice-versa.

So the email bug has bitten again. Received one some time ago from the blog producer at Harbor Village, Miami, a substance use disorder treatment facility.

Now, I frequently receive emails from treatment center reps scrounging for guest post opportunities, and I decline 99.9% of the time. I mean, it’s just too “markety.”

But I entertained JessiRae’s request because I knew I needed to feature some well-considered self-harm and substance use disorder content. Oh, and she pointed-out that one of Harbor Village’s missions is to stomp stigma and provide education and actionable advice to the struggling among us.

But you know what really closed the deal? JessiRae told me self-harm is her “personal demon.”

Boom! It was on.

So I’m going to get out of the way and let JessiRae takeover, with my thanks…

Self-Harm and Substance Use Disorders: Connections

If ever there were two things society does not want to talk about, self-harm and substance use disorders are definitely towards the top of the list – and it’s a grave injustice to the people struggling through both.

In fact, those engaging in self-harm and those enduring substance use disorders may share underlying causes. Both instances (or habits) of self-harm and substance abuse manifest as a desperate attempt to quell internalized conflict and outward strife.

In more cases than one might imagine, self-harm and substance use disorders go hand in hand. Many who self-harm turn to substances as a means of relief, and vice-versa.

Self-harm and substance use disorders are legitimate issues (sadly, have to emphasize) that often require extensive therapy. Those who no longer actively self-harm may immediately turn their thoughts to, say, cutting in times of stress, and are prone to relapse just like those with a history of a substance use disorder.

Self-harm typically includes cutting, biting, burning, head-bashing, skin-picking, incessant scratching, hitting oneself, and poisoning. And if you think about it, what is a substance use disorder if not a slow and sometimes willful poisoning of the body?

Don’t misunderstand, once instances of substance abuse turn into a substance use disorder, the poisoning of the body is no longer “willful.” Yes, substance use disorders are diseases.

Instances of self-harm and substance use disorder co-occurrence require specialized treatment to get to the bottom of each condition, which may take-on separate lives. It’s possible to treat one, but neglect the other.

Without proper treatment of both conditions, relapse of either is more likely if one considers self-harm as a precursor for substance abuse, or vice-versa.

Self-Harm Facts

Those who turn to cutting are often considered either suicidal or attention seeking. This is not the case. Cutting does not equate to suicidal behavior. Akin to taking addictive drugs, cutting (or other outlets of self-harm) helps those engaging in the behavior feel better and cope with their emotional turmoil.

This is one of the more difficult presentations of cutting to understand, as it is counter-intuitive and “perverses” our primal instincts for self-preservation.

Cutting serves as a release for emotions one is otherwise unable to express. Many engage in self-harm (or are more susceptible to it) because they are not effective communicators. This is also true for those with substance use disorders.

Simply, cutting is an attempt to cope with life’s traumas. Suicide is the attempt to end life’s traumas.

Those who assert self-harm is a cry for attention cause irreparable damage in many cases. This notion has created stigma surrounding those who self-harm – those who are ultimately unable to admit to their problems, obscured in the secrecy of clothing.

Because those who cut do not wish to be branded as “attention seeking,” it’s common for families, friends, and loved ones to have no idea what’s going on.

In fact, those who cut need to be heard, but are often unable to speak up for themselves or seek the help they need because the guilt of cutting is too great, and often leads to more mutilation. This thought pattern mirrors substance use disorders.

Many who cut feel the need to punish themselves, because they feel they are unworthy of love, merit, or consideration (yet another key facet of substance use disorders).

Self-mutilation and substance use disorders require careful treatment and empathy. Because both disorders are frowned upon publicly, many will go without treatment and continue their habits – until a slip of the knife too deep or an accidental overdose.

And There You Have It

Thank you, JessiRae. Your contribution is really appreciated.

No doubt, Chipur readers, self-harm and substance use disorders are brutal reality for millions, including loved ones and friends. And given their frequent association with the mood and anxiety disorders, Chipur needed JessiRae’s content.

I’m glad we finally started the conversation. And if you’d like it to continue, go ahead and comment…

Be sure to check things out over at Harbor Village, including JessiRae’s blog.

More Chipur mood and anxiety disorder titles? Hundreds are just a click away.

  • npeden October 14, 2015, 4:23 pm

    So glad you posted this to FB so I would catch it and thank you so much, JessiRae. I was unwanted as a child and often abused. I often really hate myself and work very hard in therapies. I do not cut but did try suicide in 2012. And I do abuse substances esp. when I get under stress. What is really getting to me is negative thinking and again I am wanting to hurt and punish myself because I do not have happy memories and I notice and attract negatives into my life. I pray this stops. Must look up you blog, JessiRae. Thanks!

    • Chipur October 14, 2015, 6:59 pm

      Well, hey, Nancy – glad you stopped-on-in and contributed. Your sharing with us is always so open and honest, and that’s helpful to anyone who may read the piece. Okay, so I know – easy for me to say. And I wouldn’t disrespect you by assuming this will just miraculously sink-in. Nonetheless, go easy on yourself, okay? Yes, I know you – and your work. You have a real heart for helping others by sharing the knowledge you’ve come-by along your journey. Truly, not many can say that. Readers, check her out on Fbook

      Thank You, Nancy!!!

    • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 10:01 am

      Hi Nancy,

      I’m so sorry for all of the things you’ve had to go through; please try to remember you’re always wanted, even by people who know nothing of your selfless work! (I’d hug you if I could!) Sometimes we take punishment into our own hands, but instead of just punishing ourselves, we really hurt the people and environments around us. (We’re also the worst people to punish ourselves, because we tend to be overcritical and unrealistic.)

      You are a beautiful spirit, worthy of celebration. Your failures do not define your character, but the measure in which you continue to persevere, and help others through the brambles of their own demons.

      In regards to your substance use, the key to overcoming that is utilizing alternate means of coping with stress and depression; many take up yoga, meditation, jogging, and even deep breathing. (I myself enjoy more holistic approaches, like crystal healing.) Without knowing what you’re using, it’s hard to give you any solid facts- but please keep in mind, many substances foment permanent damage to the brain, body, and psyche- and perpetuate chronic anxiety and depression (which is what you’re self medicating for!).

      Utilizing alternative means of coping won’t happen over night, but it is something you can strive for and work towards step by step. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you “re-train” or “re-wire” your brain to steer it from automatically relying on addictive substances, to other, more beneficial means of wellness and equilibrium.

      I wish you inner peace and happiness, Nancy!


      • Nancy Frye Peden October 15, 2015, 2:12 pm

        JessiRae, I am all about noninvasive methods of mood shifting. I do a lot of therapy into my traumatic past, I do earthing and tree bathing, I meditate and sit in nature. And now I am doing sound healings with Eileen McKusick of Biofield Tuning, which you can find it on Amazon. She is developing an anatomy of us as electrical beings in an electrical universe, so she works at a distance, striking a tuning fork and read the group. She can hear dissonance in an area and unstick that, I hope.

        We will next week work on a liver reset. She says the liver is where Dad resides and mine was a violent doctor. I want him and my violent brothers out! Their narcissism silenced all the women in our house and drove my mom to alcoholism.

        So one thing that may stop me drinking is my new belief of how the women in my life including me were poisoned endlessly. I expect a lot of rage to emerge but I have tools and support for that.

        I also have an unfiniished phd in Transformative Learning and Change where I learned a lot of East West Philosopy in my badger woman medicine back.

        Now my work is really about standing on my own even while needing and depending on others. I consider this holy work that we do together. We heal in community.

        Bill is helping me to establish my power and my voice and I am always grateful. Eileen suggests we journal or sing after our sessions though they can be pretty upsetting. We end with either an epsom salt bath or a foot bath. I do a foot bath in the setting California sun and then I ritually, and this feels like a deep honoring, I pour the magnesium water on our poor drought stressed trees. You see, I also graduated summa cum laude in horticulture; I feel in love with botany and magnesium is essential to photosynthesis. My pear tree’s leaves are now shiny green.

        I replied to your post as heartfully and honestly as I could but as you can see, I do have tons of resources. Oh, did I mention the wonderful free pstec hypnosis programs or the new Super Better game app that actually encourages you to take risks and challenges as this builds “post traumatic growth.” A big claim eh, but I am for one, feeling it.

        Last thing: in 2014 I was diagnosed with MTHFR, which loosely means folic acid is toxic for me. It causes heart disease, cancer and mental illness. I have had cancer and have the genes for every mental illness in the book. I take a little elemental lithium and I cannot take psych drugs. They had me depressed and suicidal so if I come on to your site, JessiRae I will rant against drugs. But my plate is quite full and I am actually trying to clear it.

        I feel I have a pretty good action plan going. I do fall off the wagon when the stress gets hi but Eileen says it is ok to slip once in awhile but you may disagree. I have quit easily in the past. Must now recommit as I want Dad out of my liver!

        So how is that for matching your woo woo, JessiRae. Thanks for the inspiring post.

      • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 2:26 pm

        Wow Nancy! You’re really indoctrinated into New Age philosophies, I love it! I haven’t tried tree bathing myself, but would love to- it’s funny that you mention it, because not so long ago I wrote a post on crystal healing and addiction treatment.

        I’m sorry for your health pitfalls, but I hope your practices are helping you!

        As your your troubles with alcohol, it’s entirely understandable- and I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Amethyst is thought to help taper one from addictive substances, especially alcohol!

        We would love to have you rant endless on about drugs :) .

        I think relapse, and slipping up, are just a process of learning and growing into what works and what doesn’t. :)

      • Nancy Frye Peden October 16, 2015, 5:27 pm

        Thanks, JessiRae and forgive me if I was harsh. It is actually called Forest Bathing and there is a lovely Japanese word for it that I will have you look up in Wikipedia. I went on a retreat and some young Japanese there and in the intimacy of deep forest with me, they did not hesitate to strip naked and smudge themselves with mud and hoop around like wild creatures. How I admired them as free spirits.

        Yes, this was a lapse with the alcohol. My ND has given me tips especially to hydrate to prevent cravings…carb cravings which as I may have mentioned my psychic healer says comes from bottle fed babies fed empty sugar calories. And I bet it had other junk addictives that may have started my diseases but being unwanted is my primary injury. But I have friends like Bill White who help me remember that it is good that I am here. BTW my middle name is Ellen; it means Courageous. Bes to all.

      • Chipur October 15, 2015, 6:45 pm

        Love it, Nancy. For the gazillionth time, having details like you’ve provided makes Chipur so strong for folks who stop-by. It’s all about resources and options – the more, the merrier.

        Thank You…

      • Chipur October 15, 2015, 6:41 pm

        Sweet, JessiRae. So nice to have you here! By the way, readers, she’s the author of this guest post…


      • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 7:27 pm

        Thank you so much!

  • npeden October 15, 2015, 3:18 pm

    Bill, she is a recruiter for a recovery center, no? That is what the site says.

    • Chipur October 15, 2015, 6:54 pm

      Well, I’m really not sure. All I know is she produces the blog for Harbor Village, and she inquired about sharing an article on Chipur – to which I would have said no, except for the fact that the content is one of her personal demons. That was good enough for me…


    • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 7:34 pm

      Hey you two!

      I’m not quite a “recruiter-” although of course, if somebody sent me an email or a private message on a social media platform about struggling with addiction and wanting detox or rehab treatment, I would connect them with our call center.

      But my role at Harbor Village is in our writing department! I blog about addiction and recovery all day long- and I write whatever our company needs to run smoothly. My aim as a writer of Harbor Village is to help provide resources for those struggling with addiction, self harm, depression, and mood disorders.

      Most of this type of writing is not slanted to a marketing platform, but more so of a valuable reader’s resource- hopefully filled with actionable solutions people who are struggling (or their loved ones) can implement from home.

      • Chipur October 15, 2015, 9:26 pm

        Cool, JessiRae – thank you. And you’ll likely remember I was resistant when you first contacted me. But you hung-in there with an open-mind as I explained my needs pertaining to Chipur content. And though it was your self-disclosure that won me over, your open-mindedness and cooperation were noted…

      • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 9:30 pm

        Thank you Bill! I do remember, indeed! I appreciated your straightforwardness, and I completely understood your initial trepidation. :)

  • JessiRae Ino Pulver-Adell October 15, 2015, 7:28 pm

    This is great Nancy! Although many say brain damage caused by substance abuse is permanent, in terms of the functionality of neurotransmitters, our behaviors can help re-train them!