Dermatillomania (Skin Picking): Compulsion or Addiction?

I recently wrote a blog on skin picking (Dermatillomania), which focused on what skin picking is and how it can start. Now we have the pleasure of some words of wisdom from Sophia Brooks, who set up the website howtostoppickingtips, which provides support to people struggling with this condition. Here, Sophia explains how identifying whether the skin picking is an addiction or a compulsion can assist in finding the right course of action for stopping the behaviour.

 

 

To stop skin picking, a skin picker must first find out if they have an addiction or a compulsion.

When a person is trying to stop skin picking are they battling an addiction or a compulsion? Many people with skin picking issues make it through their day to day life and don’t fully realise that they struggle with an actual disorder called Dermatillomania. Once the person with this disorder finds out they have it and want to stop, they can’t figure out how. That’s because there is not a lot of information on this subject. No matter if it is an addiction or a compulsion the skin picker has to get to the root of the problem. This disorder can be caused by many different things. So, for example, some people who pick and their therapists agree that skin picking to them would be considered an addiction. Some derive a pleasure from picking and almost get a feeling of relief when they have finished picking. Some get a compulsion to pick as if there is a feeling or sensation under their skin that needs to be scratched or picked. In this case, the person’s body is reacting negatively to something in their life. They could even be exposed to medications or certain food additives, chemical, etc. So, it brings many to wonder what they are struggling with – an addiction or a compulsion?

Treatment for addictions and compulsions are similar when trying to stop skin picking.

Treating both skin picking addictions and compulsions are very similar. With an addiction you focus more with reconditioning the mind, and finding the root of your stress, potentially detoxing as well. Also, telling themselves the damage they’re causing and being around others that care can help.

A compulsion is when the person feels they have to pick or when they feel sensations that drive them to pick. These people might want to focus their efforts mainly on detoxing, changing diet, and adding consistency to their routine with sleeping and eating. Also, finding methods and techniques that they find work for them to release stress in a positive way is fundamental. Looking into any adverse side-effects they can be getting from any medications or foods taken daily, that can be causing imbalances that overtime can cause a person to have these compulsions, is also important.

When you can’t stop skin picking it could be from not putting enough focus into treating the addiction.

An addiction is when the picker can’t stop skin picking because it feels good and helps them manage stress.  Many people who have become addicted to picking their skin tend to want to even it out or pull at scabs and dry skin. Then they become more addicted to the feeling of squeezing out pimples, flattening bumps and getting a rush or feeling of relief when they finally give to pick. For these people, skin picking is an addiction because they are addicted to the feeling or sensation that it brings.

This disorder in general can start small with perfectionism issues such as wanting lips to be smooth with no flakes, having no acne on their skin, etc. It can then escalate into using picking as an escape from stress and reality. When a person is confronted with a skin picking addiction they need to go through the steps similar to stopping any kind of addiction. For Example:

  • Detoxing

  • Changing their routine

  • Changing their diet

  • Working at reconditioning old thoughts and behaviours

  • Being around people and places where there is not as much temptation to pick

When you can’t stop skin picking, it could be from not putting enough focus into treating the compulsion.

There are many who feel skin picking is brought on by a compulsion. People who compulsively pick their skin tend to have an itching or crawling sensation on their skin. This can be from intolerances in medications, foods and drinks that we consume daily, and from doing negative things too much and perhaps positive things too little. Examples of negative things we can sometimes do too much of include:

  • Eating processed junk food.

  • Eating right before bed.

  • Medications that give side-effects.

  • Work or social life stress.

  • Drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking cigarettes.

Examples of positive things we can sometimes do too little of include:

  • Sleeping to a regular schedule.

  • Exercising.

  • Getting out in the sun.

  • Eating raw fruits and vegetables.

  • Detoxing.

  • Taking minerals and vitamins that the body is depleted of.

  • Mental reconditioning.

  • Self-reflection or meditation/breathing.

These are just examples of how the negative things done daily in excess can cause imbalances that lead to deficiencies that can cause a skin picking urge. Doing more of the positive things daily will start to reverse old conditioning. Just by changing things that you do in excess daily can really help a person zero in on actions that are causing you to pick.

If you can’t stop skin picking because it feels good, you could have an addiction.

In general, if a person has a skin picking disorder, they will need to search inside themselves to find the true way to stop it. They need to ask themselves why they are doing this. If the person answers that it gives them a small rush, chances are they have an addiction and need to focus on asking themselves why they use that addiction to escape reality.

When they find out why they use skin picking to escape reality they will be closer to finding the core cause of their problem. Sometimes a person will zone out and not know they are even picking, like when reading or watching TV. Therefore, sometimes people need to learn to be consciously aware that they are picking. Then they can work on reconditioning the thoughts that drive them to pick.  

   For more information on breaking free from Dermatillomania, drop by Sophia’s website .



Categories: Health, Psychology

Tags: , , , , , ,

38 replies

  1. Wow I’ve never seen any info on this. I have a family member that has a problem with this, I sent the link

  2. I find that most people who skin pick do so out of compulsion rather than addiction. They pick at scabs or pimples because they “have to”. They have an unstoppable desire to pick them usually for a reason…to try to get rid of the scab or pimple.

    For those that are “addicted” to skin picking, it is without reason, they just do it because they are addicted to doing it. They don’t need a reason.

  3. For the last 3 nights, I’ve been looking for sites and online communities dealing with this problem. Yes, for me it’s a problem. At 53, I have had enough. However, the one thing I’ve noticed – or perhaps should say not noticed – is a link between sexual abuse and picking. Perhaps it has been mentioned elsewhere but given the stats that do seem to be known it seems to me that there is the likelihood of a strong correlation. Certainly, self-injury of other sorts is considered one of many outcomes and it seems to me that this fits right in. Anway, my picking (I even hate saying/typing the word) seems to be a combo of a level of compulsion and addiction but I don’t find anything pleasurable in it at all. I am gratified to see this post is dated September 7th of this year. Many of the other posts I’ve found were posted over the course of 2011 and through the summer of this year but nothing later. Thank you for addressing the issue – both Dr. Davies and Ms. (?) Brooks.

    • Really interesting, PastorJo – you raise an important point. I too have seen a potential link between the two, although there certainly needs to be more research into this. I think the link might come from a need to rid the body of the ‘dirty’ feeling and the shame that is felt after sexual abuse.

      I personally see skin picking as self-injury, although others might debate this.

      I do hope all is going better with your own struggles and thank you for sharing with us. It is a difficult illness to contend with, but if you can recognise it as being just that – an illness – I think you have a strong headstart in tackling this.

      • I lost my mum to suicide ages 11 and was then sexually abused by a senior school teacher and have been skin picking since I was 7 years old. I am now 31 with three daughters and am so desperate to stop. My skin is a mess, I’m constantly ‘scanning my skin’ with my finger tips to pick… I f eel horrid. I’m trying a hypnosis DVD that a life coach made me to help me stop picking but have only tried it for a few days. Thanks for this article. I feel less of a freak reading this.

  4. Thank you for talking about the need for holistic lifestyle changes to stop skin picking. Diet, exercise, sleeping, and breathing and/or meditation practices can have a huge impact. I’m a holistic health coach specializing in skin picking and related body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), and I find it frustrating that lifestyle is not recognized as a cause or contributor. If scientists studied the effects of reducing sugar consumption on skin picking, for example, I am sure they would find it effective. However doctors, including psychiatrists, are trained only to work with drugs, and that’s the approach most of them exclusively use.

  5. Very lately, I did an online research on my picking. I came across details on the state known as compulsive skin picking or Dermatillomania. It is actually a kind of having OCD.

  6. My question is if you pick scabs and pimples and eat them can his cause harm to youre body? Its not a constant thing with me but I do enjoy this when I find a scab or have dirt under my nails. I scratch my head and eat what’s under quite often. Can this be a health issue?

    • Hi Nikki, Thank you for sharing. In general, this won’t do you any harm, but it does pose a risk – especially if you were to consume an infected scab or germs from your pimples. Do you have any strategies you could implement to prevent this?

    • I do this as well, I pick the scabs on my head because that’s where they all are and I pick them and it feel good and I eat them because I just have the habit to bite and chew so I do it to my scabs. I’ve been doing this for two years and I do it subconsciously and my mum found out about it recently. I want to stop so I can let my scabs fully heal so they won’t get infected but I can’t help the feeling of pick them when they are dried up and bumpy and just feel good to get rid of.

  7. Hello! I have been researching on the topic of skin picking for a few months now and I honestly thought that I was alone but I feel relieved that I am not. I am a 20 year old woman who has been skin picking for years. I don’t even remember when I started, it’s been that long. I don’t even know why I started or how. I pick the skin on my fingers until basically they are almost raw looking and are bleeding. I sometimes even pick at the scabs. I mainly pick the skin on my thumbs but then it goes to all my fingers except my pinkies. I sometimes pick at the heels of my feet but it has become rare for me to do that. I can pick and not even know I’m doing it until I feel a sudden sting of pain and I then realize what I am doing but even then, I continue to pick. I am always picking. I have tried to stop but usually after a day, I am back to picking and if I pick after a while of not, it’s a picking frenzy. I love the way it feels; the skin being pulled off. I want to stop but I do not know what to do. Can you please help me?

  8. Iv been skin picking since I remember it started off on my hips and now I mainly pick at the top of my arms and my thighs. The thing is I don’t hate doing it the only thing I hate now is that I can’t wear short sleeve tops or shorts/skirts because I don’t want people to think I have a rash. But I completely zone out when I’m doing it I will see like a hair with a little bit of white and I will pull it and then that’s me off for what it feels like an hour. I never thought it was a thing but now I know it could be for many reasons it’s made me a little worried about it. Basicaly I think I’m inlet weeny compulsion and addiction.

    • I’m the same way sam but I only do it when my anxiety is bad I’ve noticed and can go awhile without doing it and when I do I can sit in the mirror for hours but I hate it cuz I can’t where short sleeves either and am so ashamed afterwards, especially since it’s always after my arms have healed fully. Then I pick again and it’s worse. But I also noticed it’s usually when me and my step mom fight and she’s treating me like crap. I used to have a drug addiction problem (almost 2 yrs clean), and used to think that was why but I’ve always picked even before my drug addiction so I think I have an addiction and compulsion. And was also sexually abused growing up and now I’m 25 living on my own and have a job. So when I have my picking moments I’m so embarrassed. Hope this helps anyone.

  9. I’m 38. I started skin picking at age 12. But I do have a very specific memory of when I was just six and in the first grade. I had two mosquito bites on the upper portion of my left arm. I derived a lot of joy from picking them, while wearing a peach colored sleeveless blouse, on the playground of my elementary school. Such a vivid memory.
    I was exposed to an extremely high amount of stress throughout my childhood. My mother was truly hysterical and had (still has) untreated borderline personality disorder. She is also extremely bright and uses her intelligence to manipulate and harm everyone around her. I took the brunt of her anger, being the youngest and most vulnerable. She hated being a mother. She was also severely abused as a child. Her mother was mentally ill as well. And her father walked out of the family home when she was just eight months old, never to be found again. Anyhow, I was terrified of upsetting her and felt responsible for her emotional state up until age 37, when I *finally* set myself free from her wrath, by cutting off contact. At age three a neighbor’s German Shepard had bitten my leg. I was so fearful of upsetting my mother that I tended to my wound, changed my clothing and went on about my day, expressing no discomfort. My wounds were discovered that evening at bath time and required stitches. I was left with two, relatively small permanent scars from the dog bites. I ended up in therapy over my intense fear of dogs, including photos of dogs and stuffed animals that were dogs, that developed after the attack. But the fear of my mother was not addressed.
    I can spend 13 hours digging at my skin. It takes my mind into a safe place. It feels very, very good to me. I also live with chronic pain, so feeling good is very hard to achieve.
    In reading your definitions, I can see that I have both a compulsion and an addiction.
    I have wounds on my back, arms, anywhere there is even the slightest imperfection. Even my face. I would especially like to learn to leave my face alone. That was once strictly “off limits.” But over time, I lost complete control. At any given time, I will have 1-6 wounds on my body due to picking that are anywhere from 3-6 months old, with 1-2 on my face.
    What I think may be most interesting for you to hear from me is that I have no desire to ever stop. Picking comforts me in ways nothing else ever could.
    Thank you for the article. Picking is something we need to learn to talk about more openly.

  10. I always used to feel like I was the only person doing this in the world. I’m 17 and have been picking at my acne for as long as I can remember. As soon as I wake up in the morning I pick. As soon as they begin to scab over I pick. I feel like there is no help for me out there and I feel alone. I think I pick because basically all my life I was bullied and I would come home and pretend that it was okay and pretend that it didn’t bother me but really it did and for so long I have just bottled up my feelings and told no one how I really feel about the bullying because nobody understands. If for one day I could just not skin pick I would love it.

  11. Hi. I have written a paper on conceptualiIng trichotillomania as a disorder of addiction. My paper was posted to a blog on canadianbfrb.org. I believe the same could apply to dermatillomania. I proposed that there could be different categories of the disorder, such as an OCD type and an addiction type.

  12. I have always picked since been a young girl , I have the scars all over my body too….. I ve had particularly bad ones on my head, and used to spend hours with a fine comb trying to cover up the bald patches i had created. Ive always suffered with depression and am currently struggling as im going through a very painful divorce , i have a large scab on my arm which is so painful during and after an hour long picking session but i continue to do it as i go off in a another world and the pain is a sense of relief / punishment for me. I use make up or when it is really bad a plaster. The only way to stop it from drying up is to put vaseline on it which i have done in the past this prevents me from picking it but i have to want to and at the moment im not in that zone, I also use sudocream to speed up the healing process but this some times has the opposite effect. It really hurts most of the time its like having a permanent open wound.😦

    • I know how you feel, having a wound you really need to heal just so you can stop, but it never heals, it just needs to be constantly picked at. The scalp thing, I have had to do the same thing with covering up balding spots, although I have been able to keep my self from taking hair up when picking do I dont bald any more. It’s a pain in the bum

  13. I have been picking at bumps on my scalp for 8 years now, since I was ten. I went though homelessness, abuse( not sexually), changes in parents relationships, more abuse, foster homes, mothers death, father moving away out of sight, adopted and never saw my best friends again, and was bullied though middle school. I have had a hard time, but i am a beautiful adult now. I think I’ve always picked scabs as a kid but when I was ten and diagnosed with scalp inflammation it gave me a never ending supply if scabs to pick and eat. I think it’s sooooo gross bug I can’t stop. I have slapped my hands away from picking. My parents tell me to stop but I’m at the point where I mouth back that I literally can’t, I’ve tried. I grew out my hair so that I had something to distract with and it seems to be working. I’m at the point where I do it in public and i dont care, even though it I’d embarrassing to explain to others. I know i do it under stress, and when I’m nervous, I think it’s part of my adhd. But I also pick when I’m bored, watching tv, sitting in the car, playing video games ( I’ve had to pause games to pick). I even do it going to sleep and when I asked up during the night and first thing in the morning It used to get so bad that it would go down to my hair line and people could see it. I have tried to limit the picking you my scalp, but I do pick pimples, although I have much better control over face and visible scabs because people think I’m extremely beautiful and I don’t want to scare them away.
    I hate my scalp scabs, i pick because I think scabs are dirty and i dont want them there.I want them to be picked then never to come back. I want the scalp to be flat with no bumps.
    I’m sorry I’m pouring my heart out, and babbling on. I really just want help, I hate picking and want to stop like yesterday, but I cant…not on my own. My doctor just gave me scalp otiment to clear the inflammation but it never heals because of my picking. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

  14. I’ve always picked from an extremely young age. It started with my ears from about the age of 5, I had an absolute obsession with it. I would pick them so much that they would bleed and even would inspect other people’s ears for the picking potential. Then it went on to spots, at first it was the pure satisfaction of popping it and then it became a compulsion and then an addiction. I used it as a form of relief and would spend hours in the bathroom picking in places where no one could see like my chest, arms and shoulders. Whilst doing it I wouldn’t really think of anything, I would completely zone out, it’s not till afterwards that I would stop look at the mess I’ve made and get extremely upset. I don’t consider myself to have acne, my skin becomes red, inflamed and pussy because I pick. I grew out of it for a few years but lately after becoming stressed and anxious I have started again but it’s worse than ever! I now pick at my scalp, face, chest, arms and back and find myself screaming at myself to stop but I cant, it’s like my fingers have a mind of their own. I do it without even realising, I do it in public and whilst I’m watching the telly. My skin is so sore afterwards, and it looks horrid. My partner has even noticed it now because I can’t hide it from him and it hasn’t deturred me, in fact it makes it worse, because I get anxious about the picking I start to pick, it’s a vicious circle that seems to be getting increasingly worse, and actually scares me as to what I will progress to next. I have felt lonely in this as I always thought I was the only person that done this and thought it was just a sick habit I had, I now am starting to wonder if it’s deeper psychological issues that I have tried to suppress that I need to deal with? I’m so embarrassed about it I can’t bare to share it with a doctor but worry I’m going to really harm myself. Even whilst writing this im picking! I do it in my sleep and there isn’t a minute of the day when I’m awake that I don’t do it. I don’t even look in the mirror anymore because I can’t bare to see the mess I’ve made and I can’t fight the urge to pick. HELP please

  15. my son picks the soles of his feet, he peels it off layer by layer until its bleeds. i have begged him to stop but with no luck, i have seen him limping and i have had to medicate and wrap them with gase. i am about to throw up my arms! i agree about it being a form of o.c.d.which is common in my family. i am so worried about him and i do not know where to start.

  16. Want to stop picking!

  17. This is the first time I realize I do have a problem with pimple popping and that a name actually is associated with this disorder. Most articles I have read pertain to clearing up ur skin so one doesn’t pick but that is just masking the real underlining issue. I pick at my kids pimples, which drives them nuts. I do not see many articles on cures for this disorder.

  18. Hi, i pick my arms and face in particular and always pick scabs of cuts and this is the disgusting part… I eat my dead skin and scabs! I don’t know why i do it, my arms are covered in scars and i feel ashamed when walking around with a short sleeve top on. Is there someo

  19. So I read this and I’m 100% certain it’s an addiction for me. I’m 23 and have been picking for about 10 years. The thing is I love it, I actually enjoy it and look forward to squeezing my spots even if there isn’t anything I’ll still squeeze. I spend on average 2 hours a day picking. I don’t want to stop but know I should because I’m destroying my skin and it’s worse as I don’t have long nails so I’ll use a sharp object to squeeze. Like this addiction doesn’t make me sad and I don’t do it because I’m u happy or stressed but because I enjoy it, it’s my hobby (I know that’s weird) I just know I need to stop because I’m completely destroying my skin and am scarring myself yet at the same time the thought of stopping is sad 😟😟 if u can give me some advice I’d be so grateful.

  20. I have an addiction at the minute and all my friends and family tell me off for picking my skin, but why can’t they see how I’m feeling it’s not like I want my self to look ugly? And I’m just addicted and after it before I used to be really hard on myself but now I become more and more used to the results which I shouldn’t I need to stop once and for all. I’ve stopped times before but only for 2 weeks or so and it was my mum who got me started wen I first got spots and she had kinda the same problem as me so you’d think she would understand wouldn’t you? No she just says ‘I want you to look pretty’ but do u really think I want to look like this?

  21. Hey, Im a 15 year old girl and im always picking at the skin around my thumbs and from my calluses but i do pick my spots aswell because i just want them to go and i know i should really stop but im struggling a bit? Is there any tips on how to stop it because i think the reason why i pick is because of stress and just to even it out so it’ll look better which it doesnt i end up making it worse but i really need to stop because ive got 3 little cuts on my face because of this? Help me please??

  22. I’m 31 yra old and I’ve been picking for as long as I can remember, like since 5 yra old. As of right now I have about 6 sores on my thigh and stomach and arm. My mom does the same thing and her arms are scarred really bad. It’s like as much as I try to tell my self to stop I can’t!!! I’ve even had bf say I’ll pick it for you but it isn’t the same. I don’t only pick. I chew the scabs too. I wish I could learn to control this

  23. I have a spot on my right ear i pick. I can remember doing it years ago and just started back. The thing is i kinda like the pain. But seems like when i try to let it heal i can’t because it doesn’t heal back smoothly so i always pick the scab off. I want to stop and i know i can being I’ve done it before but this time seems to be taking longer.

  24. I am really addicted to picking my legs. One wondering is about 5 inches long and 4 inches wide it is a deep wound but as soon as it scabs I have to pick it. It doesn’t hurt because I think the nerves are dead but it does bleed alot when I do it.

Trackbacks

  1. Pick At Skin No More With Advice From The Skin Picking Community
  2. some things you just wont understand

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