To Hurt or Not to Hurt: Self-Injury vs. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Did you know that “90% of self-injury individuals begin harming themselves during their teen years or younger? Were you aware that 66% of Teens said that drugs and alcohol help them forget their problems?” (Moravec, Scott 1). In our society today, coping mechanisms have changed from what they used to be. Instead of screaming into a pillow, or getting away from the situation at hand, people are now finding ways to cope with the pain and stress of their everyday lives by harming themselves. One main way in which people try to cope with and numb their pain is by cutting, or burning themselves. The correct term, however is self-injury. Another way people try to cope with their pain is by drinking it away, or doing drugs, like cocaine and marijuana to help them escape reality. When comparing self-injury to drug and alcohol use, neither one is worse than the other; the two affect the body in similar ways emotionally and physically.
Upon hearing the phrase “self-injury” the first thing that comes to mind is cutting; however, there are other forms of self-injury, and a multitude of reasons why people hurt themselves. Many people already know that cutting is the main way people who self-injure cope with their stress and their pain, however, many self-injurers do not cut themselves at all. Chris Simpson, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, writes, “In addition to self-mutilation, examples of self-injury include: hair pulling, picking the skin, excessive or dangerous use of mind-altering substances such as alcohol, and eating disorders” (Simpson 1). Many people misunderstand why a person would ever do such an act; they think that any person (who would do a thing like that would have to be crazy. Sometimes that is the case; however, in most cases, according to pathologists Favazza and Rosenthal, “The behavior of… self-mutilation has been described as an attempt to escape from intolerable or painful feelings relating to the trauma of abuse,” and not just for attention or suicide (Simpson 1). The idea of opening up one’s skin, and watching the blood flow like a stream of red roses from their arm, to relieve pain and stress is wildly misunderstood. Most people who are self-injurers hurt themselves because they are not able to correctly express their feelings of anger, anxiety, or sadness (Simpson, 1). In their life time, no matter how short their time has been, these people have experienced great trauma, like rape or emotional abuse, and simply don’t know any other ways to express their intense feelings. In most cases self-injurers know that what they are doing is wrong before anyone needs to tell them, and so they act on that knowledge and try and find help on their own.
Drug and alcohol abuse are similar to self-injury in the fact that people do drugs, and drink to cope with their feelings of pain or distress. Drugs and drinking are equally as addicting as self-injury is. The use of drugs helps to trick the mind and put the user into a different world to help them escape their own. Most communities think that people do drugs to fit in and to be rebellious against their parents; however, that is not always the case. There are people who do just that, but most drug and alcohol abusers are doing drugs and drinking to get their mind off of what is really bothering them, or to let loose and finally feel free. According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, “Drugs are chemicals. They work in the brain by tapping into the brain’s communication system and interfering with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information” making it easy for people who do drugs to forget their problems and escape into their own world (Science 1). In contrast to self-injury, drug and alcohol abusers do not always realize that they have a problem and need an intervention of sorts before they believe there is a problem with their behavior.
In contrast to drug and alcohol abuse, Self-injury releases endorphins to raise the mood of the self injurer, whereas drugs and alcohol takes a person out of their own mind. For people who release their pain through cutting, burning, or other forms of self-injury it isn’t always about control. Believe it or not, the act of cutting releases endorphins, just like exercising does. Not many people believe this to be true, but according to Tracy Alderman a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and author of The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence, “dissociation and the release of endorphins, serve to mask the physical pain that would seem to accompany self-injury” (Alderman 1). Drugs and alcohol abusers may also feel the release endorphins, but I have not been able to find any evidence.
Some people may believe that self-injury and / or drug and alcohol abuse work for them, but the truth is that neither option works. In the end both options leave negative effects on the person performing the act. Self-injurers will always have scars to remind them of what made them put them there, and the want and need to cut, or burn will always linger in the back of their minds. Drug and alcohol users will have other physical ailments; their livers will never be the same, and the website- Science behind Drug Use and Addiction explains that “the reward circuit of [abusers’] brain[s] can become abnormally low, and the ability to experience any pleasure is reduced. This is why the abuser eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that previously brought them pleasure,” like hanging out with friends at the mall or playing basketball (Science 1).
Self-injury is not something people would find similar to drug and alcohol abuse, but when comparing them, they are both equally as harmful. Self-injurers tend to notice their act as a problem sooner than those who drink and do drugs. I have had countless friends who drink and do drugs to help them cope with their lives. They have always told me that it works for them until they are no longer drunk or high, or until they hit rock bottom. I’ve also had friends who self-injure; they, too, tell me that it works for them, but only for a little while. In the end both sets of friends would come to me asking me to help them stop what they were doing because it was not working anymore. When my friends who self-injured eventually came to me for help I knew there wasn’t much I could do. I had to confront my friends who drank or did drugs because they didn’t want to see that they had a problem, and that was a hard yet necessary thing to do. It broke my heart to watch my friends hurt themselves in these ways, but it also warmed my heart when they came to realize that the things they were doing was never going to help them.
Works Cited Page
Alderman, Tracy. “Myths and Misconceptions of Self-Injury: Part II.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scarred-soul/200910/myths-and-misconceptions-self-injury-part-ii>.
Moravec, Jeff. “Kids Drink, Use Drugs to Cope.” Shaffer Library of Drug Policy. Market Facts, Inc, 17 Oct. 1995. Web. 13 Oct. 2009. <http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Other/kiddrnk.htm>.
Simpson, Chris. “Self-Mutilation.” Health. ERIC Clearinghouse, 29 July 2008. Web. 16 Oct. 2009. <http://www.athealth.com/Consumer/disorders/selfmutilation.html>.
Scott. “Cutting: Self-Injury Facts & Statistics.” Scott Counseling. 6 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 Oct. 2009. <http://www.scottcounseling.com/wordpress/cutting-self-injury-facts-statistics/2009/02/06/#comment-3201>.
The Science Behind Drug Use and Addiction.” Above the influence. National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Web. 16 Oct. 2009. <http://www.abovetheinfluence.com/facts/science-behind-addiction.aspx#>.