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Onychophagia: A Real Nailbiting Problem

By HERWriter
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“Stop biting your nails!”

A few of us as children and even as adults have heard this line. Nail biting, or onychophagia, may seem like a harmless behavior, and it could be just an annoying habit, but it can also be associated with some mental issues as well.

For example, one study found that nail biting was comorbid with mental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The study also found that out of 450 children referred to a mental health clinic, 14 percent had nail biting. The author suggests that mental health professionals should look for this behavior in children and adolescents.

Though nail biting is most often found in children and teens, adults may have it too, though the issue generally fades with age.

Nail biting can be associated with another disorder as well: hair pulling, or trichotillomania. An article on the Trichotillomania Learning Center website stated that nail biting is more than the occasional picking.

It is to the point where people “continually bite their nails past the nail bed and their cuticles until they bleed and are constantly walking around with red, sore, and sometimes infected fingers.”

People with this issue generally try to hide their hands in some way. Also, the nail biting can either be their main focus or done unconsciously while participating in another activity. There may be an obsessive aspect to it, especially If the nail biter is trying to make her nails look a certain way.

One site, www.brainphysics.com, stated that nail biting can also create stimulation for people who are bored. The site mentioned that nail biting can be classified as an impulse control disorder.

Nail biting can feel good and relieve tension for some people, so it’s hard to stop. However, with medication and behavioral therapy, symptoms can improve generally.

It shouldn’t be assumed that anxiety and nail biting have a cause and effect relationship, according to one source. However, another site, www.mothernature.com, said it can be a reaction to stress.

The site gave some tips on how to stop nail biting:

- “Make them taste bad” (paint your nails)
- “When not in public, wear cotton gloves” (helps avoid getting to your nails)
- “Buy a box of adhesive strips” (put over your nails)
- “Carry worry beads” (find something to do with your hands)
- “Encourage yourself” (get a manicure)
- “Shorter is better” (don’t bite to trim)

Nail biting isn’t an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and is usually associated with other mental disorders (if any).

Although nail biting may not have an official diagnosis, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you bite your nails to the point of bleeding and disfiguration, it might be time to think of why you are indulging yourself in this activity. If you are unsure of why you are biting your nails or need help stopping, consider talking to a mental health professional.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.