I have been biting my nails since, according to my family, I was about 3 or 4 years old. I have been trying to stop, off and on, since age 10. I have done everything I can find online…fake nails, band aids on every finger, rubber bands (to snap when I get the urge), the bitter nail polish, using a “buddy” to motivate me, stopping one finger at a time, frequently manicuring and filing, everything. Twice I’ve been able to cut cold turkey, but that only lasts about 2 weeks. I know it started because my home life was incredibly stressful when I was young, and I had a lot of problems up until the end of sophomore year. Since then, I have eliminated all of my biggest stressors, other than the unavoidable ones (school, work, day to day stuff) and have since graduated from counseling for depression, anxiety, and PTSD issues. I’m still on two medications a day to work as a mood stabilizer, and now I’m overall a very easy-going, calm person. I think now the habit is so ingrained in me that I can’t get myself to stop. I’ve seen online that nail biting is now being classified as an OCD spectrum of sorts. I know that some people have quit with some help from medications. While my counselor was aware of the nail biting, it was not too big of an issue to her. Now I’m thinking it’s gotten so severe that I should see what other support I can get. I hate to try to diagnose myself by any stretch, or convince myself that this is a bigger deal than it is. But I know how horrible it is for my hands, my teeth, and my body with the bacteria I’m inevitably ingesting. I bleed frequently, and I feel like this has gotten out of control. I feel like I can’t stop. While, with the other mental health issues, I’m very, very sick of doctors, I am looking for insight. Is this something I should see a doctor for?
A: Thanks for writing in with your question. I recently answered a question similar to this and rather than repeating my advice, I am going to suggest that you read that article. That person asked about skin picking, but they are quite similar with similar treatment approaches: Anxiety Induced Skin Picking Increasingly Violent
It sounds like you have your other issues under control so I feel confident that you can seek help for this problem and see improvements in a relatively short amount of time. I would seek a therapist who specializes in these types of issues, utilizing a cognitive-behavioral approach. Hypnosis has been found to be especially helpful for negative habitual behaviors as well, and many folks achieve success with only a few sessions.
Finally, here’s an article that I think you might find helpful: Skin Picking and Nail Biting: Related Habits
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Aug 2014
Counts, H. (2014). Out of Control Nail Biting…When Is It Time to See a Doctor?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/08/10/out-of-control-nail-biting-when-is-it-time-to-see-a-doctor/