Find Freedom from Hair Pulling

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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Do you pull your hair from time to time? Hair pulling is a seemingly innocent habit that can actually be a debilitating issue. As many as one in 50 people suffer from this condition, according to The Conversation.

Trichotillomania is often misunderstood and overlooked. It’s worth emphasizing that it’s a psychiatric disorder that often needs professional intervention.

Are you wondering, “What is trichotillomania?” Read on to examine its statistics, explore its causes and symptoms, and delve into diagnosis and treatment options. That way, we can leave you with hope and an understanding for those affected.

What Is Trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania, also known as hair-pulling disorder, is a chronic psychological condition. It’s categorized under obsessive-compulsive and related disorders in the DSM-5. This is the official handbook of mental health issues known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

People suffering from trichotillomania often experience an irresistible urge to pull out their hair. This urge can even lead to noticeable hair loss. It’s a distressing disorder that can affect one’s everyday functioning.

Trichotillomania Statistics

Trichotillomania affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, though it often emerges during adolescence or early adulthood. Statistics reveal that around 0.5 to 3% of the population may experience trichotillomania at some point in their lives.

However, due to underreporting and misdiagnosis, the actual prevalence may be higher.

Trichotillomania Causes

The exact cause of trichotillomania remains unclear, but it is believed to be a multifactorial condition. It can be influenced by genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

We’ll explain the possible causes of this mental health issue.

Genetic Factors

There could be a genetic predisposition that may contribute to the development of trichotillomania. Does your family have a history of trichotillomania or other related psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or Tourette syndrome? If so, you may be at an increased risk of developing trichotillomania yourself.

It’s true that specific genes associated with trichotillomania have not been identified. Still, it’s believed that multiple genes may interact with the environment to influence one’s susceptibility to the disorder.

Biological Factors

Biological abnormalities in the brain may also play a role in the development of trichotillomania. There’s potential for differences in brain structure and function in people with trichotillomania. The most likely regions are those involved in impulse control, emotion regulation, and reward processing.

Dysregulation of neurotransmitters may contribute to the compulsive hair-pulling behavior observed in trichotillomania. This can include serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, as these are involved in mood regulation and behavior.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors, including stress, anxiety, and trauma, are commonly associated with trichotillomania. For some individuals, hair pulling may serve as a coping mechanism for managing difficult emotions or situations.

The repetitive nature of hair pulling may provide temporary relief from stress or tension, leading to a cycle of compulsive behavior. Additionally, negative emotions such as shame, guilt, or low self-esteem may exacerbate hair-pulling urges and perpetuate the disorder.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can include childhood experiences, parenting styles, and even social influences. Altogether, they may contribute to the development of trichotillomania.

Traumatic events, abuse, or neglect during childhood may increase the risk. This is because the disorder of hair pulling can be considered a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Similarly, environmental stressors, such as academic pressure, relationship difficulties, or financial problems, may trigger or worsen hair-pulling episodes in certain individuals.

Interacting Factors

It’s important to recognize that trichotillomania is likely the result of the complex interplay between genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

One person may develop trichotillomania due to a combination of genetic predisposition and neurotransmitter imbalances. Another individual may develop the disorder as a response to traumatic experiences or chronic stress.

Understanding the multifaceted nature of trichotillomania can inform more comprehensive approaches to assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Symptoms of Trichotillomania

The hallmark symptom of trichotillomania is the recurrent urge to pull out one’s hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or other body parts. This behavior is often preceded by tension or anxiety and is typically followed by feelings of relief or gratification.

Over time, repetitive hair pulling can lead to noticeable hair loss, resulting in bald patches, thinning hair, or complete baldness in severe cases. Individuals with trichotillomania may also experience shame, guilt, and embarrassment about their hair-pulling behavior, leading to social withdrawal and avoidance of activities where their condition may be noticed.

How to Diagnose Trichotillomania

Diagnosing trichotillomania involves a comprehensive evaluation by a licensed and reputable mental health professional. The diagnostic process often includes a thorough assessment of the individual’s medical history, symptoms, and more.

Medical tests should be done to rule out any other medical conditions that may have symptoms similar to trichotillomania.

Trichotillomania Treatment

Do you feel like you have a loss of control?

Treatment for trichotillomania often involves a combination of psychotherapy, possible medication for anxiety or depression, and self-help strategies tailored to a person’s needs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is quite effective in treating trichotillomania by helping individuals pinpoint and confront the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their hair-pulling urges.

Habit reversal training, a specific form of CBT, teaches individuals alternative coping strategies to replace hair pulling with healthier behaviors.

Medications and other antidepressants may be prescribed. These shouldn’t be seen as cures. Rather, they can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression often associated with trichotillomania.

The most common type of medication, in this case, is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In some instances, supplements such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can help reduce hair-pulling urges.

Self-help strategies such as keeping a hair-pulling diary, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking support from peers can also help with managing trichotillomania symptoms.

Trichotillomania Is Treatable With the Right Team of Professionals

What is trichotillomania? Now that you’ve learned the details of this condition, you’re that much more prepared to seek out treatment.

Everything starts with the licensed and experienced team at Advanced Behavioral Health. We use an approach backed by science and empathy. Our cognitive behavior therapy can be applied to trichotillomania, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and more.

Would you like to learn more about how we can solve your trichotillomania? Don’t hesitate to schedule a convenient consultation with our Advanced Behavioral Health team.

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