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The Link Between Addiction And Self Destructive Behavior

Link Between addiction and self-destructive behavior. What Is Self-Destructive Behavior? Self-Destructive Behavior & Addiction. Self-Destructive Patterns of Addiction. Letting Go of Self Destructive Behaviors. Signs of Self Destructive Behavior. Seeking Help for Addiction and Self Destructive Behavior.

What Is Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behavior is the term used to describe harmful actions and thoughts a person directs towards themselves. Some people who show self-destructive behavior are aware of their actions and continue to do them out of habit or impulse. It may be due to earlier life experiences related to childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse. It can also be related to a mental health condition, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, or anxiety.

While some of the self-destructive behaviors may seem trivial or unimpactful to the person initially, these unhealthy actions often interfere with the person’s happiness and peace. When it comes to alcohol or drug addiction, there are a lot of additional factors involved that can affect the person on their path to sobriety. Sometimes, these additional factors are conditions that preceded or developed as a result of alcohol or drug addiction. One such condition is self-destructive behavior, and understanding what it is and how it can affect your sobriety can help you succeed in treatment.

addiction and self destructive behavior
Of all the self-destructive behaviors to choose from, addiction is one of the worst.

What are the common risk factors for self-destructive behavior? You might be more prone to behave in a self-destructive manner if you’ve experienced drug or alcohol use, childhood trauma, neglect, abandonment, physical or emotional abuse, friends who self-harm, low self-esteem, social isolation, or exclusion. If you have one self-destructive behavior, it may raise If you have one self-destructive behavior, it may raise the likelihood of developing another.

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Self-Destructive Behavior & Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction are self-destructive behaviors, and a return to drug or alcohol abuse may be a coping mechanism or a perpetuation of self-destruction. These behaviors may stem from childhood trauma or abuse, low self-esteem, or even mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that around half of all drug abusers and a third of alcohol abusers also suffer from mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders often co-occur with substance abuse disorders and need to be diagnosed and managed to promote recovery. Substance abuse can exacerbate mental illness symptoms, increasing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Chronic drug and alcohol abuse makes chemical changes in the brain that can create a physical and emotional dependence on the substances. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms may occur in between doses or when the substance is removed [1]. These symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, aggression, depression, and physical discomfort, encouraging addicts to continue abusing substances and thus reinforcing the self-destructive behavior. Recognizing these behavior patterns and learning to improve or avoid them are vital during recovery.

Self-Destructive Patterns of Addiction 

Self-destructive behavior and addiction go hand in hand — but there’s more to the relationship than you might think. Though self-sabotage may appear to be a completely irrational response to stress, anxiety, or trauma, there are actually well-documented psychological patterns at play. Despite the confusing nature of self-destructive behavior, there is a marked path toward understanding and recovery.

Self-destructive behavior, or self-sabotage, is when a person does something that causes negative consequences in their own life. There are three distinct ways in which someone can self-sabotage:

Primary Self-Destruction

  • This is what most of us think of immediately — when a person intentionally chooses to engage in behaviors that are directly harmful to them. It’s the rarer of the three models and is often referred to as “masochism” when it’s the only self-sabotage model in play.


  • This conceptual model of behavior is more common, as it involves a person choosing to engage in a behavior that has a perceived benefit. It also comes with a strong potential for causing harm. 
  • For example, someone might know fully well that choosing to get drunk on a work night will impair their performance the next day, but they do it anyway because the immediate benefit is more important to them than the later consequence. This model is the primary culprit for self-destructive behavior when it comes to addiction.

Counter-Productive Strategies. 

  • This model can be difficult to identify at first because the person involved doesn’t foresee or intend to cause harm to themselves, but they use strategies that backfire when seeking a positive outcome. 
  • This is especially common in young people, due to a combination of trouble with self-regulating and low self-esteem. For instance, a young adult with a self-esteem deficit may desire an outcome where their confidence is boosted — a perfectly admirable goal. However, they may choose to receive that boost through questionable channels, like engaging in unhealthy, dangerous, or illegal behaviors in order to earn the esteem of their peers.

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Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors 

The psychological reasons for self-destructive behavior are many — but so are the methods you can use to help yourself or a loved one recover. If you’re not sure how to help a self-destructive person, perhaps that person being yourself, these pointers will be useful. They are appropriate for any type of self-destructive behavior, but can help you form an especially strong foundation for addiction recovery in particular:

1. Define Your Behaviors. Alcohol and drug addiction is a large behavior to define, so it’s helpful to break it down and consider all the negative behaviors associated with it. For example, you may find that when drunk you have a tendency to create emotionally-fraught situations with one or more of your family members. Or maybe you prioritize using drugs over things like nutrition and personal hygiene.

Self-destructive behaviors can be small things, like telling yourself you don’t deserve certain things or talking to yourself in a defeatist manner. They can also be the absence of action, such as not paying the bill or deciding not to feed yourself enough, in order to afford drugs or alcohol.

Write down as many of these behaviors as you can, so you can start to tackle them one at a time. You can ask family or friends to help you flesh out your list, which can make you aware of some new behaviors.

2. Identify Triggers. What makes you self-sabotage? It’s a big question, but you can start by identifying places, situations, people, or things that cause a spike in stress. Aside from general irritation or boredom, stress and anxiety are the biggest triggers for alcohol or drug addiction cravings and other self-destructive behavior. If alcohol and drugs are a way to shut down unpleasant feelings, it’s crucial to know what feelings you’re trying to turn off.

Recognizing situations that cause cravings also gives you the option to avoid them altogether. For example, if you know that seeing others drinking brings on powerful cravings, it’s not a great idea to go to a bar or hang out with that friend who’s always doling out beers.

Identifying triggers also gives you the opportunity to set up healthy coping strategies in case you find yourself in a difficult situation.

addiction and self destructive behavior
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.

3. Track Your Behaviors. Keeping a journal of your actions and reactions is vital to changing self-destructive behavior. All you have to do is keep a log of any self-destructive behaviors you engage in, and create a short pro and con list for each. This will help you prioritize which behaviors to work on first, as well as uncover patterns of thinking that underlie your actions.

For instance, if you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, you’ll probably experience thoughts such as “One drink won’t hurt,” “I need/deserve this drink,” “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “No one has to find out.”

These thoughts are unhelpful, intrusive, and irrational, but they’re a natural reaction of a brain convinced that alcohol will solve its problems. Keeping track of these thoughts can give you a more tangible and objective perspective and stop you from engaging in the behavior.

4. Practice Mindfulness. Self-destructive behaviors, including alcohol or drug addiction, often arise from our inability to process what is happening to us at a given time. A person might feel fear about a meeting with their boss the next day and try to shut it off by drinking rather than giving the situation the time and consideration it needs to be resolved.

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Signs of Self-Destructive Behavior

Alcohol or drug abuse

A person who engages in destructive behaviors might suffer from an alcohol or drug addiction. Oftentimes, individuals who use substances as coping mechanisms had a troubled past and use alcohol and drugs to numb their feelings. They seek short-term relief for their pain, and alcohol and drugs provide the perfect outlet – in their minds – to achieve their goal. However, the negative feelings and uncomfortable emotions always come back, making this a dangerous habit in the long run.


Burning or cutting oneself is an unhealthy way of coping with emotional pain. Most of the time, self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but it can lead to suicide either deliberately or accidentally. If you or someone you know is hurting themselves, please seek help immediately. Self-harm is a sign of much deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Impulsive behaviors

Reckless spending, hypersexuality, drug abuse, stealing, and other impulsive behaviors are classic signs of self-destruction. Someone who suffers from this might have a bipolar disorder or personality disorder, which makes it challenging for the sufferer to control their emotions. This, coupled with an inability to assess consequences, makes an individual prone to impulsive behaviors.

Being too sensitive

While being too sensitive is often a genetic trait and can’t be helped, some individuals who feel things more deeply use this as a way to manipulate people. For instance, if someone feels as though they have to walk on eggshells around a person, this is self-destructive behavior. The overly sensitive person might not mean to make them feel this way, but they still use their emotions to control the person or situation.

addiction and self-destructive behavior
Shame and self-hatred are directly related to the destructive choices of addiction.


People might think there’s no harm in trying to please others, but some people take this to the extreme. Letting others walk all over you just to keep them happy only results in your own misery. Moreover, will take advantage of your self-sacrificing behavior and won’t respect you. This self-destructive behavior is usually overlooked because it seems relatively harmless; in the end, however, it causes pain for both parties involved.

Negative thoughts

Everyone deals with negative thinking, but when it becomes all-encompassing and intrusive, it’s a cause for concern. Individuals who have frequent negative thoughts often suffer from a lack of control over emotions, which often lead to other problems in life. This destructive behavior can be overcome, however, through yoga, mindfulness meditation, or other relaxing activities that require one’s full attention.

Burying emotions

Hiding your emotions might feel like a healthy way of dealing with them, but the exact opposite is true. Society encourages us to put on a mask and pretend, but many individuals are hurting deeply inside because of this. Refusing to acknowledge emotions to appease others or to appear strong will only backfire and lead to a breakdown later.

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Narcissistic Self-Destructive Behavior

Narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder, is a mental condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward others. Many people think that narcissists would never self-destruct or self-harm due to their inflated egos. However, that may not always be true.

Research shows that vulnerable narcissists are at higher risk of self-harm as their self-esteem is low, and they often struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. Grandiose narcissists might hurt themselves (impulsively rather than repetitively) in an attempt to exploit or manipulate their victims. Although the motivation for this behavior is very different from a typical self-harmer who is far from attention-seeking, it’s still a form of self-mutilation.

Besides all that, narcissism often goes hand-in-hand with other co-morbidities, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is a condition commonly associated with self-destructive behavior. Therefore, we can assume that some narcissists do self-harm, though it’s not a typical trait.

Seeking Help for Addiction and Self-Destructive Behavior

It is very common that those who show self-destructive behavior to actively sabotage their recovery. With self-destructive behavior, it is usually hard for the individual to allow any loved ones to help them seek treatment and remain sober. The individual might also not see any point in seeking treatment, as their self-defeating thoughts might make them believe that it’s pointless or that they will fail.

It is also possible that the individual might no longer care enough about their well-being with self-destructive behavior and will refuse and fight against receiving any treatment. They might be under the belief that they greatly enjoy the way their destructive behavior makes them feel and will consider it self-sacrifice if they keep it contained within their own life.

There are both emotional and physical components to addiction and self-destructive behaviors, and both components must be addressed in order to recover and regain a healthy balance in life. Medical detox, or removing harmful chemicals from the body, is often the first physical step toward recovery that may be managed in a medically supervised detox facility in order to help smooth the process and ensure safety. Only after the user is clearheaded and drug- or alcohol-free can someone begin to address the psychological roots of addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often used for flushing out and discovering triggers that often lead to self-destructive behaviors and modifying negative behaviors, thoughts, and visions of oneself into more positive ones. Therapies can help identify problem behaviors, and trained professionals can work with clients to reinvent and reassess those behaviors into more positive ones. New life skills and coping tools are taught to reinforce healthy behaviors and improve self-esteem while reducing anxiety and stress.

addiction and self destructive behavior
Self-destructive behavior can occasionally be misidentified or as part of another co-occurring mental condition.

Self-destructive treatment can be much more complex when combined with addiction. Many who suffer from both behaviors need advanced care that simultaneously tackles both issues. Dual diagnosis treatment grasps the various constraints that lead people to self-destructive, this will help them discover the problems and cope in a more way.

Now that we’ve answered the question “how to stop self destructive behavior” and learned about the risks that come along with it. It is important to reach out for professional help if you or a loved one are struggling with long-term self-destructive behavior and addiction. Contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up rehab center can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

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[1] NIDA –
[2] Self-Harm Treatment – We Level Up NJ

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