“Can self-injury be addictive? Exploring the potentially addictive characteristics of non-suicidal self-injury”

By Sarah Davis

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) is prevalent health problem that has a big impact on many people’s lives, and it needs to be better understood in to improve prevention and intervention. NSSI is defined as the deliberate and direct self-inflicted damage to the surface of the body, without suicidal intent and for purposes not socially sanctioned, which includes cutting, burning, scratching or biting of the skin [1]. NSSI is a common difficulty that has increased in the UK in recent years [2]. Many people self-injure as a way to cope with difficult emotions or situations [3], but this can also lead to problems, such as scarring or risk of infection, and experiences of stigma [4]. Frequent self-injury can lead to future mental health problems (5) and can be an indicator of subsequent psychological difficulties.

Some people can come to feel reliant or dependent on their self-injury and sometimes even describe it as addictive [6, 7, 8]. There has been little research into the addictive aspects of self-injury. The aim of this research is to better understand whether NSSI can be considered addictive for some people, and in what ways. We aim to use this information to develop a questionnaire to measure the potentially addictive aspects of self-injury. Being able to better measure these aspects of NSSI may in turn improve the understanding of when and why NSSI may become addictive, and for whom.

This study will help us to better understand NSSI, which in turn will help to guide how we support and help people who are struggling with their self-injury by tailoring clinical treatment plans. Knowing more about the potentially addictive characteristics should improve communication and therefore enrich treatment planning and evaluation. This research project (based in the Division of Psychology and Mental health) aims to investigate experiences of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury, and how the behaviour may become depended upon, by asking participants to complete an open-ended interview with a researcher, either face-to-face or by video call. This interview will begin with a short version of The Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview (SITBI) and continue with open-ended questions on experiences of self-injury and characteristics which may be addictive.

If you would like to be contacted by the researcher to find out more, please email

If you wish to take part, you will first be invited to a 30-minute telephone conversation (or by video-call) to discuss the study further, check your eligibility to take part and answer any questions you may have.

Sarah Davis is a PhD student at Manchester University (, @AddictiveNssi).

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