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Posted: March 25, 2009
Last Updated: March 25, 2009

If youíve never heard of trichotillomania, youíre not alone. This specific disorder tends to be obscured by the notable manias, like pyromania, kleptomania and pathological gambling.  Like most manias, trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder, but unlike others, it focuses on self-injury to sooth anxiety by hair pulling.


This sounds rather tame by most disorder standards as a person who is tugging on their hair doesnít seem as dangerous as a pyromaniac who is setting fires, but it is just as serious from a mental perspective because it is self-injury to calm a personís emotional state. If not treated, such behavior can lead to other more severe forms of self-injury.


It is estimated that up to 2 percent of the population suffers from trichotillomania. Like many mental disorders, it tends to affect women more often than men. People often start compulsive hair-pulling around the puberty, roughly age 12 to 13, leading some scientists to believe the symptoms may be triggered by hormonal changes in the body during the transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Also onset of trichotillmania is frequently associated with a stressful event in life, like abuse, family conflict or change in schools. But researchers are unsure what exactly causes the disorder, though they believe it can be heredity, hair-pulling tends to run in families, or be genetic since it has been linked to certain neurotransmitters.


Now trichotillmania isnít just simple hair pulling, it is constant tugging or twisting of the hair that can cause bald patches because of the personís incessant worrying on their hair. They repetitively pull their hair out at the root from places like the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes. This hair-pulling tends to sooth the sufferís anxiety, which tends to build right before the hair is pulled free. People with trichotillomania often pull out their hair one strand at a time and then inspect the strand after pulling it out. They sometimes chew the strands, twirl or play with their hair, or even eat their hair. People with trichotillomania sometimes engage in other behaviors such as compulsive nail biting or skin picking. Sometimes they also suffer from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Like most impulse control disorders, trichotillmania is treated in two ways: behavioral therapy and medications. In behavioral therapy, people learn a method of keeping track of the symptoms and associated behaviors they use to deal with anxiety or stress. By increasing the personís awareness of hair-pulling, the person can substitute other behaviors or work on techniques aimed at reversing the negative habit. With medication treatment, symptoms can reoccur so most mental health professionals incorporate both behavior therapy and medication into a treatment. The medications usually used are those used to control obsessive compulsive behaviors, which is why many psychologists believe that the two disorders are related in the way they affect the brain chemistry.


If you canít seem to stop pulling your hair and need help call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.




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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.