Consequences of Nail-Biting

Consequences of Nail-Biting

Nail-biting, or onychophagia, is one of several common body-focused repetitive behaviors. While it's a fairly common habit at various points in people's lives, especially in childhood and teenage years, and is often done to relieve boredom or stress, adults usually grow out of the habit. But those who compulsively bite their nails into adulthood can suffer embarrassment and anxiety about it, find it self-perpetuating and difficult to stop. While it is not dangerous it has a number of negative physical, psychological and emotional or behavioral consequences. One possible positive potential consequence of nail-biting exists: by seeking treatment, the nail-biter could discover relief from anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive disorder that might be causing the nail-biting behavior.

Physical Consequences

Nail-biting can cause bleeding of the cuticles and skin around the nails. This in turn can cause bruising and swelling. Infections can occur due to the transfer of bacteria and viruses from mouth to hand and from open sores. Damage to the cuticles from compulsive biting can even damage the nail bed. Sores on hands are especially prone to infection or further spreading of germs from person to person, due to their constant use and exposure.

Psychological Consequences

Nail-biting is typically an unconscious activity, done to relieve boredom or anxiety. While the causes of nail-biting are debated, it has been shown to be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. Regardless of the cause or severity of the behavior, nail-biting can become a habit that is self-perpetuating. The hands and nails are on constant display. The damage to one's fingers from nail biting is ugly, causing shame and anxiety, which is then relieved by further nail biting -- a self-perpetuating cycle.

Interpersonal Consequences

As a compulsion, nail-biting can become a major focus of life, interfering with relationships, work and general happiness. While it's hard to imagine, the compulsion to gnaw at one's nails can so govern a person's life that the habit also becomes the unwelcome focus of one's loved ones and work colleagues. Unhealthy, bleeding hands put people off, keep them at a distance or put them on guard, justifiably so, whether they are friends, lovers, colleagues, or customers. This can harm work and personal life and relationships.

Treatment Benefits

By treating the nail-biting behavior in therapy or in a doctor's office, a nail-biter may find not only relief from an out-of-control habit, but also discover whether a more generalized anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder lies at the root of the problem. Addressing the habit with medical or psychological help brings with it the potential for learning, new perspectives, self-awareness and growth.