When people purposely and intentionally harm themselves for some form of relief or satisfaction, it is referred to as self-harm. When someone is high or drunk, the ‘good' feeling they get from hurting themselves is increased and can be especially enjoyable. It can also release a lot of stress. It is pretty clear this is not a healthy way to deal with stress or other negative emotions.
When someone wishes to kill themselves, they want to end their pain, whether it be physical or mental, or both. Death is the solution for their pain. However, people who self-harm do not want to die, they just want to release their pain, and use it as an outlet for their suffering. This, of course, may appear backward.
The most common methods of self-harm are cutting and poisoning (over-dose behavior, drugs, and alcohol). Other forms are:
“Drinking alcohol produces physiological stress, that is, some of the body's responses to alcohol are similar to its responses to other stressors. Yet, individuals also drink to relieve stress. Why people should engage in an activity that produces effects similar to those they are trying to relieve is a paradox that we do not yet understand. One hypothesis is that stress responses are not exclusively unpleasant; the arousal associated with stress itself may be rewarding.”
--- Enoch Gordis, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Self-harm is directly linked to substance abuse, including alcohol use. Simply using illicit drugs or alcohol is a form of self-harm, even if it is unintentional. The National Suicide Research Foundation stated that there is a strong connection between self-harming and excessive drinking. Self-harm itself is a direct side effect of the depressive symptoms that come with heavy drinking. In 2013, 38% of about 12,000 self-harm reports were related to consuming alcohol. Some think it is possible to reduce self-harm by 17% by ending heavy drinking among teenagers. Not too surprisingly, self-harm reports increase over the holidays, where people harm themselves and are admitted to the hospital after consuming alcohol. This leads to an increased need for help during the holidays.
It's been mentioned before that alcohol is often used as a way to self-medicate for mental health conditions and symptoms. Alcohol is also used to have a ‘good time' and celebrate. When you start drinking, even if you started in an amazing mood, your central nervous system reacts to the depressive effects of alcohol. This lowers your inhibitions, and if you are already prone to self-harm, this may lead you to go further with your self-harm than you have before. If someone is a cutter, they may cut themselves deeper or somewhere more dangerous than they usually do. Someone might burn themselves more, or take additional drugs and accidentally overdose.
As previously discussed, self-harm is not done by someone to intentionally try to kill themselves since it is used as a coping mechanism. The problem is that when alcohol becomes involved, accidental death becomes more and more likely while practicing more extreme self-harm. It is also a higher risk since alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol can bring former suicidal thoughts and negative emotions and feelings back to the surface, leading someone to do something they would likely not do sober.
Treatment for both self-harm and substance or alcohol use is available. During treatment, care providers will treat both conditions at the same time using approaches for both the self-harm and alcohol use. The greatest key to successful recovery is recognizing the symptoms in yourself, or reaching out if you see the symptoms in a loved one. People suffering from self-harm should always seek professional help, though in the meantime some things can be done to help care for yourself and reduce risk. These include:
Many suicide hotlines offer assistance for self-harm, but an excellent resource is the Crisis Text Line. From anywhere in the USA, you can text CONNECT to 741741, and you will be connected to a crisis counselor specifically for self-harm. It is available 24/7.
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