Self-Harm & Alcohol Abuse | Symptoms, Risks, & Treatment
Many people who self-harm also abuse alcohol. Both behaviors may temporarily numb emotional pain. Ultimately, though, they pose serious health risks, such as life-threatening injuries, alcohol poisoning, and suicide attempts. Dual diagnosis treatment can help.
If you or someone you love struggles with self-harm and alcohol abuse, seek help at a dual diagnosis treatment program.
Co-Occurring Self-Harm & Alcohol Abuse
People self-harm in many different ways. The most common forms of self-harm include:
- cutting yourself
- burning yourself
- punching yourself
- pulling out your hair
- biting yourself
- hitting yourself against a wall or other hard surface
Some people self-harm to punish themselves, signal that they need help, or numb emotional pain. Others do it for a rush when they feel empty inside.
Underlying Mental Health Issues
No matter the reason, self-harm does not necessarily indicate suicidal thoughts. However, when left untreated, it increases the risk of suicide attempts. It may also signal a mental health disorder, such as:
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- borderline personality disorder
These disorders also are risk factors for alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction). As with self-injury, many people abuse alcohol to cope with difficult feelings. While these behaviors may temporarily make you feel better, they pose serious health risks.
Symptoms Of Self-Harm
The most common symptoms of self-harm include:
- mood swings
- feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- scars, cuts, bruises, or other wounds, which often appear in clusters
- multiple burns
- always keeping knives, razorblades, or other sharp objects on hand
- wearing long sleeves or long pants all the time, even when it’s hot out
- spending a lot of time alone
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- difficulty maintaining relationships
In addition, a person who self-harms may frequently claim to have accidental injuries. In reality, these injuries may have been intentional.
Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are two main types of alcohol abuse: binge drinking and heavy drinking.
Binge drinking occurs when a female has 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours and a male has 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours. Heavy drinking occurs when a female has more than 3 drinks in one day or more than 7 drinks per week and a male has more than 4 drinks in one day or more than 14 drinks per week.
The most common symptoms of alcohol abuse include:
- frequent cravings for alcohol
- mood swings
- drinking to the point of experiencing blackouts (episodes of memory loss)
- drinking alone
- drinking in dangerous situations, such as while driving or swimming
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea or sweating, when you don’t drink)
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- loss of motivation
- decline in personal hygiene
Risks Of Self-Harm & Alcohol Abuse
Like many coping mechanisms, self-harm and alcohol misuse come with serious risks.
People who self-harm may develop permanent scars, infections, and life-threatening injuries. They might also experience strong feelings of shame and guilt. In addition, as mentioned above, self-harm can increase the risk of suicidal ideation.
Alcohol Use Disorder
People who abuse alcohol face a high risk of alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence). This serious disease makes you feel unable to stop drinking alcohol. It can lead to a wide variety of other health problems, including:
- alcohol poisoning (alcohol overdose)
- weakened immune system
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- certain cancers
- mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Self-Harm & Alcohol Abuse
People who struggle with self-harm and alcohol consumption should seek dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment addresses substance abuse and substance use disorders that occur alongside other mental health issues, including self-harm.
Dual diagnosis care can also help treat any underlying mental illnesses that may contribute to self-harming behaviors.
Some dual diagnosis treatments are outpatient, meaning you visit the treatment center while living at home. Others are inpatient, meaning you live at the treatment center and receive 24/ 7 care. Your doctor can help you determine which type is best for you.
Both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs offer personalized, evidence-based treatment options, including:
During medical detox, clinicians help you manage withdrawal symptoms as you get alcohol out of your system. It’s typically the first part of treatment.
In therapy, a mental health professional helps you cope with difficult thoughts or feelings so you become less likely to self-harm or abuse alcohol.
Your treatment team may prescribe medications to ease alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms. They might also recommend antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or other mental health medications to treat any underlying mental issues linked to your self-harm.
In a support group, you can discuss your triumphs and challenges with other people recovering from self-harm and drug abuse.
When you prepare to leave treatment, your doctors can help you create an aftercare plan. This plan will include strategies to keep you healthy, such as:
- ongoing therapy and support groups
- regular exercise
- suicide prevention strategies for those who have struggled with suicidal behaviors
- wellness activities, such as journaling, exercise, and meditation
To learn more about dual diagnosis treatment, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer comprehensive, evidence-based care to help you or your loved one build a healthy life.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
- National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Images/FactSheets/Self-Harm-FS.pdf
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health
- National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/selfharm.html