New hope for self-injury sufferers

injury it us unable to bind to the receptors and create the same sensation that occurs, for example, when a heroin addict takes a low dose of heroin.

Thompson and his colleagues have also discovered the locations on the body where people self-injure is indicative of whether naltrexone will reduce self-injury. People who self-injure in acupuncture analgesia sites, such as the temple or the wrist immediately behind the thumb, seem to respond to naltrexone treatment, presumably because self-injury in those sites causes the release of beta endorphin while self-injury in other locations does not. Observing over time where on the body an individual self-injures could help determine which treatment methods are likely to be most effective, Thompson said.

Self-injury is most prevalent in people with severe to profound mental retardation and those with autism, although it also occurs in individuals with other conditions such as Fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Although people who self-injure account for only 3 percent to 17 percent of all those with developmental disabilities, the services they receive account for as much as 20 percent of total service costs, or some $4.5 billion per year.

Historically, people with intractable self-injury were institutionalized and often put in physical restraints. Beginning in the 1960s, neuroleptic medications came into use but because of serious side effects, their use has been greatly decreased. Today, newer neuroleptics are used, as well as antidepressants, but with limited evidence of effectiveness.

In the 1980s, researchers discovered that some self-injury among nonverbal individuals was a primitive attempt at communication. With the teaching of sign language or other means of nonverbal communication, self-injury often decreased. However, a third to a half of people with chronic self-injury did not respond to t

Contact: Peggy Shaw
Vanderbilt University

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