Is Dermatillomania an Addiction?

finger picking at skin abrasion on thumb

Dermatillomania, or skin picking, is classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) and is usually exhibited by compulsive skin picking, which often damages one's tissue. Just like some addictive behaviors, dermatillomania is driven by the need to find temporary relief from the triggering factors. To understand whether dermatillomania is an addiction or not, one has to first understand the meaning of addiction and compulsion.

Addiction and Compulsion

The term "addiction" refers to a dependency on something that provides temporary satisfaction and relief. Individuals suffering from an addiction are willing to act beyond rational reasoning in order to obtain the desired satisfaction. On the other hand, compulsions are repetitive habits that arise from an individual's need to respond to an obsession. These compulsions provide temporary relief and can become repetitive as the individual seeks to alleviate distress. However, these compulsions can be managed by identifying and managing triggers. Obsessive-compulsive disorders encompass various compulsive habits, but not all of them can be considered addictions. An addiction becomes a compulsive behavior when the substance or activity no longer provides pleasure, but rather serves as a gateway to continue indulging in it.

Similarities between Addiction and Compulsion

Despite being different concepts, compulsion and addiction share several similarities. Some of the common similarities between these two include:

  • Indulgence in repetitive behavior as response triggers, such as anxiety
  • Feeling helpless over one’s emotions and behavior
  • Interference with an individual’s work and personal life
  • Decreased quality of life

Compulsion and addiction are also both reinforced by the reward pathways where one finds excitement from indulging in a particular behavior and finds the constant need to repeat it.

Treatment of these conditions include therapy and medication. However, the type of therapy and medication differs depending on the individual’s situation. 

Difference Between Addiction and Compulsion 

Despite addictions and compulsions sharing similar traits, the main difference between the two is the underlying motivation. Addiction involves a dependence on a substance or activity, while compulsions involve adopting various repetitive behaviors, such as picking at the skin, to help one deal with unpleasant emotions. Addiction also often results in withdrawal symptoms if the addiction is not met.

Is Skin Picking an Addiction? 

The line between addiction and compulsion can be blurred in cases of dermatillomania. While some similarities exist between skin picking and addiction, there are also distinguishing factors, such as the underlying motivation. Therefore, an effective approach to managing dermatillomania would be to treat it as a body-focused repetitive behavior.

If you or a loved one struggles with dermatillomania, it is important to seek help and support from a professional experienced in BFRBs. At The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, we provide numerous resources to help those struggling with dermatillomania and other BFRBs. Get the support you need, and join our community!

Skin Picking