Self-Harm & Substance Abuse | Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Treatment

Co-occurring substance abuse and self-harm can cause worsening mental health, withdrawal symptoms, and serious problems in your daily life. Treating substance abuse and self-harm involves behavioral therapy, medication, and other treatment options in Ohio.

Symptoms of a co-occurring self-harm and substance use disorder may include covering up injuries, abusing alcohol or drugs to deal with negative feelings, and worsening relationships with family members or loved ones.

Self-harm, also known as non-suicidal self-injury, can be a sign of a serious mental health condition such as bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abusing alcohol or drugs can also lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), another serious mental health condition.

Self-harm and substance abuse can worsen your mental health over time, not improve it. Co-occurring self-harm and drug or alcohol abuse can be a sign that you or a loved one are in extreme distress and need professional help.

Symptoms Of Co-Occurring Substance Abuse & Self-Harm

Self-harm can be a temporary coping mechanism for stress, trauma, or serious mental illness. Self-harm is not a form of suicidal behavior, but it may increase your risk of suicide compared to not self-harming.

Abusing alcohol or drugs can also be a temporary coping mechanism. However, both self-harm and substance abuse can worsen your quality of life over time. 

Signs of co-occurring self-harm and substance abuse may include:

  • frequently wearing long sleeves or pants to cover injuries
  • fresh bruises, cuts, or scars
  • missing hair
  • talking or thinking about feelings of despair, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • suicidal ideation (spending a significant amount of time thinking about suicide)
  • loss of interest in daily activities
  • poor performance at school or work
  • withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit alcohol or drugs

If you see a family member or loved one talking about feeling worthless, trying to cover up injuries, or struggling with their health, they may be in severe distress and could benefit from professional help.

Self-Harm & Substance Abuse

Specific numbers on alcohol or drug use statistics in people who self-harm is not publicly available. However, in a 2023 study, about 50 percent of participants who self-harmed frequently had an alcohol use disorder.

Case reports from this study also listed cannabis, opioid painkillers, and cocaine as common targets of drug abuse in people who self-harmed.

Additionally, drug overdose was a form of self-harm seen in about 60 percent of participants.

Risk Factors For Substance Abuse & Self-Harming Behaviors

Substance abuse and self-harming behaviors can lead to a cycle of worsening mental health. The guilt caused by self-harm can lead to abusing drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, and vice versa. Other risk factors for self-harm and substance abuse may include:

  • a history of mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, or borderline personality disorder
  • a family history of these mental health conditions
  • a personal history of self-harm
  • a history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • a family history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • experiencing stress or trauma
  • being an adolescent or young adult

According to some studies, people who self-harm may describe patterns of self-harm as “addictive.” These studies suggested self-harm can affect your brain similarly to other habit-forming behaviors, such as abusing alcohol or drugs.

About 17 percent of all people may self-harm at least once in their lifetime, while 50 percent of people may illegally use drugs at least once in their lifetime. Similar rates of self-harm and drug abuse may be seen in Ohio.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders & Self-Harm

Reducing deliberate self-harm involves treating the underlying mental health conditions that lead to these behaviors.


Different types of therapy can work for patients with different conditions and needs. 

Seeking Safety therapy can be effective for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective for many types of mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder or major depression.

These forms of therapy can treat both substance use disorders (SUDs) and forms of self-harm.

Withdrawal Management

If you try to quit alcohol, opioids, or other habit-forming substances, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, insomnia, vomiting, and other problems.

Professional treatment programs can manage your withdrawal by gradually reducing your dosage over time, or taking prescribed medication to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

Effective withdrawal management programs can vary depending on your treatment program and history of substance abuse.

Find Treatment In Ohio

Co-occurring substance abuse and self-harm can be harmful to your health. 

However, people who abuse drugs or self-harm can struggle with the stigma linked to getting help. Professional treatment for mental health conditions can greatly improve your treatment outcome compared to not getting help.

At Ohio Recovery Center, our mental health and addiction treatment center can give you the resources and medical care you need to avoid harmful behaviors in the future. We offer mental health and addiction services that can fit your specific needs.

For information on our mental health and addiction treatment options, such as behavioral therapy, withdrawal management, wellness exercises, and aftercare planning, please contact us today.

  1. Frontiers in Psychiatry - Physical and mental illness comorbidity among individuals with frequent self-harm episodes: A mixed-methods study
  2. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry - Prevalence and Characteristics of Self-Harm in Adolescents: Meta-Analyses of Community-Based Studies 1990-2015
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse - NIH analysis of Reddit forum suggests experience of non-suicidal self-harm shares characteristics with addiction
  4. National Institute of Mental Health - Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: July 27, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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