Self-harming May Lead to Substance Use Disorders

self-harmingNew research indicates that teenagers who engage in self-harming are more likely to develop substance use disorders and emotional problems later in life. The study included almost 5,000 participants of 9,383 16-year old teenagers that were asked to complete a questionnaire that dealt with self-harming behavior, Medical Daily reports. Researchers followed the teenagers for five years.

The study participants were more likely to be female, white and to have a mother with higher education, higher income, and higher social class. However, according to lead researcher Dr. Becky Mars of Bristol University in England, “there is no reason to believe that those individuals who returned the questionnaire were more likely to self-harm than those who didn’t.”

Non suicidal self-harming behavior can include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Poking With Sharp Objects
  • Banging Your Head
  • Taking Too Many Pills

The teenage participants were asked if they had ever hurt themselves on purpose in any way, or if they had ever wanted to take their own lives, according to the article. Despite the relatively high prevalence of teens who had a history of harming themselves, 19 percent, most teens had not sought professional help.

“This is the first study to investigate outcomes amongst those with non-suicidal self-harm,” Mars told Medical Daily. “We were quite surprised at just how high the risks were in relation to non-suicidal self-harm, given its high prevalence in the community.”

Self-harming teenagers that lacked suicidal intent were more likely than their peers to develop:

  • Substance Use Disorders
  • Mental Health Problems
  • Emotional Problems
  • Difficulties at Both School and Work
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

“There is widespread lack of understanding amongst health and teaching professionals about those who self-harm without intending to take their lives,” Mars said in a news release. “It should not be dismissed or viewed as trivial, as it could be a warning sign for suicidal behavior or other problems later in life.”

The researchers report in the journal BMJ.