Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life

More often than not, most people postpone seeking or receiving help for mental health and substance use disorders until they have reached their wits’ end, trying to manage their symptoms on their own. Similarly, many people may recognize that they are struggling, but feel that they can learn to manage or treat their symptoms without professional assistance. The truth of the matter is that anyone can benefit from treatment, whether it be through counseling, outpatient therapy or a long-term residential treatment program.

In an effort to avoid treatment and experience relief from mental health conditions or substance use disorder (SUD), as well as associated symptoms, people might find themselves engaging in self-destructive behaviors from time to time. These behaviors are often unintentional and they do not become a habit. However, sometimes self-destructive behaviors are done consciously and can exacerbate already-present mental health and substance use problems. It is important to understand what self-destructive behaviors are, how they may surface and recognize that treatment is available to help manage and overcome these behaviors.

What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

Self-destructive behaviors are exactly as they sound: behaviors that are destructive or harmful to oneself. These behaviors are bound to do harm in some way, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally.

Self-destructive behaviors are also called “dysregulated behaviors” as they describe abnormal or impaired regulation of impulses. Typically, an individual will initially engage in self-destructive behaviors as a means of experiencing relief or pleasure. This can begin consciously or unconsciously, but ultimately, the behavior will result in harm to oneself.

These behaviors can be categorized in two ways: obvious self-destructive behaviors and subtle forms of self-sabotage.

Examples of Obvious Self-Destructive Behaviors

Examples of obvious self-destructive behaviors include:

  • The use of alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate
  • Binge eating
  • Compulsive behaviors such as gaming, shopping or over-working
  • Impulsive and risky sexual behavior
  • Self-injury, such as cutting, hair-pulling or burning

Examples of Subtle Forms of Self-Sabotage

Subtle forms of self-sabotage tend to be unconscious, yet they can be just as mentally or emotionally harmful as obvious self-destructive behaviors. Subtle forms of self-sabotage include:

  • Engaging in negative self-talk, such as mentally insisting one is not smart, attractive or worthy enough
  • Changing oneself to please others
  • Engaging in isolating or aggressive behaviors that push people away
  • Wallowing in depression and self-pity
  • Maladaptive behaviors, such as procrastination

What Causes Self-Destructive Behaviors and Substance Use?

There are many factors that can increase an individual’s risk of engaging in self-destructive behaviors at some point in their life. These risk factors may look similar to risk factors that contribute to the development of mental health disorders and SUD. Individuals who experience the following risk factors may be more prone to behave in self-destructive ways:

  • Substance use
  • Unresolved childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect or abandonment
  • Experiencing physical or emotional abuse
  • Being part of peer groups that use substances or self-injure
  • Low self-esteem or a lack of self-worth
  • Isolating oneself from others or being excluded in social settings
  • Lack of attachments

How to Treat Self-Destructive Behaviors

To heal from the harmful effects caused by self-destructive behaviors, an individual must work to bring attention to the behaviors as well as the underlying motive for them. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a great treatment for these goals, as it helps an individual to identify and change behaviors that are unhealthy or troubling. Behavioral therapies can also be used as such interventions help individuals become more aware of how their emotions affect their behavior and vice versa.

Treatment centers may recommend a variety of different therapeutic treatments to help manage self-destructive behaviors, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Addiction counseling
  • Stress management

Continuing to engage in self-destructive behaviors without help or treatment can increase the risk of developing worsening mental health and substance use outcomes. It is essential that individuals struggling with such behaviors seek support as soon as possible to get these behaviors under control.

How to Prevent Self-Destructive Behaviors and Addiction

Despite being exposed to various risk factors for self-destructive behaviors, there are still protective factors that exist that can help an individual avoid engaging in these behaviors, even during stressful times. Protective factors include:

  • Having quality friendships and relationships
  • Feeling supported and empowered by others
  • Being involved in activities that boost self-esteem
  • Feeling a sense of belonging

If you believe you are behaving in self-destructive ways, you probably are. Understand that you deserve to feel loved, cherished and worthy. With the help of treatment and social support, you can challenge your self-destructive behaviors and learn to love yourself again.

New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services is a treatment facility that understands the challenges of managing and overcoming self-destructive behaviors. We treat substance use disorders, co-occurring mental health disorders and underlying self-destructive behaviors during treatment. We are dedicated to supporting your healing process. To learn more, call us today at (877) 929-2571.