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Impulse Control Disorder.

Resolved Question:

How can I stop playing with my hair?

I've had this habit for about 10 years. It started when I was in college. I've tried to stop several times, sometimes succeeding, but always starting back again after a few weeks.

I'm guessing it's an obsessive compulsive thing, because its nature changes sometimes. I used to just pull on my hair to feel the texture, but after I permanently straightened it (for unrelated reasons -- just practical and aesthetic), I seem to be more obsessed with untangling my hair (running my fingers through every so often to make it straight again).

What's the key to stopping this? Do I need to go see a psychiatrist (i.e. is it a deeper problem, or just a bad habit)? Thanks.

Category: Psychiatrist

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Thanks for your consult at DoctorSpring. I have gone through your question in detail and I can understand what you are going through.

The habit of touching the hair repeatedly in trying to untangle it is suggestive of impulse control disorder. It is treated by psychiatrist and fluoxetine is a drug of choice in such conditions. Valproates are the other drug of choice which is useful in these conditions. Further relaxation therapies are also useful.

It is not an OCD and its not any major illness. Although it would be wise to seek medical / psychiatric help before it becomes a more severe problem.

Hope I am able to help you with your concerns. In case if you have any further queries I will be more than happy to help you.
Kind regards
Dr. Srikanth Reddy MD

Patient replied :

Interesting! That was helpful, thank you. Some follow-up questions:

1) Why the hair? For example, I could have had an eating disorder instead, because I like eating sweets. For food impulses, I get the chance to make a conscious choice. With the hair though, it seems almost automatic: I don't get as much of a choice.

2) What's causing the relapses? How can I prevent them?

3) If, say, I did succeed in stopping permanently. Would this be channeled into some other (possibly more harmful) activity? Or would I be free from it, like quitting smoking?

4) You mentioned it might become a more severe problem. Can you give some examples? How likely is that to happen?

5) What are some ways to treat this without using drugs?

Thank you!

Thanks for the follow up query.
Your first question is the most difficult one. Why the hair? Well frankly speaking I dont know. Infact no body knows. Etiology or causation of mental disorders is not known. However you can blame it on your brain. You are predisposed to an impulse control disorder and you may develop others as well. Infact some people have multiple of them as well.

Coming to the second question. The relapse was there cause it was not treated. It certainly needs proper treatment to reduce the chances of relapse.
No the channeling does not occur. We treat the impulsive behaviour and it reduces the impulsivity in general and reduces the possibility of impulsivity towards all the behavior.
Serious problem in your case could be you may start plucking the hair leading to alopecia or patchy baldness. You may do it unintentionally.
If you are averse to taking medical treatment then behavioural therapy with relaxation training can help in treating it. Both options are equally effective. You can very well go for the non medical treatment provided you have time and motivation for it. Psychologist are the people who can help you with this.
Wish you good health.
Take care.

Patient replied :

Ok, thanks so much! One other question: which part of the mechanism is the part that isn't treated, that causes the relapse? The trigger, the building up of tension, or the response? I.e. What does the treatment target specifically, that I'm failing to target when I try to stop on my own?

Thanks for the follow up question.
Its the building up of tension and the response that need to be targeted first.
The response should be gradual reduction in the number of times your hand should go to your hairs.
Dr. Srikanth Reddy

Patient replied :

Ok sounds good. Is there anything you can tell me that would help me to stop this without having to go see a psychiatrist? I will probably go see one, but just wondering if there's anything I can try on my own first.

You may try yoga or meditation or general relaxation exercises. You can youtube some progressive muscle relaxation exercises and do them twice a day. That may help until you see a psychiatrist.

Hope this has helped.

Dr. Srikanth Reddy
Category: Sexologist
Doctor of Medicine (MD), Psychiatry Residency Program,2001 – 2012
M.B.B.S,Mahatma Gandhi Institute Of Medical Sciences, Sevagram

Certificate Course in sex Therapy and Counselling, Sexology and Counselling, A
Sexology,Medikon Sexual Sciences, Mumbai

Training in Advanced Neurology at a leading corporate hospital (CARE hospital) in Hyderabad

Child Psychiatry Training in National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Bangalore

Sex Therapy and Counsellingat MEDIKON Sexual Sciences, Mumbai.
Dr. Srikanth Reddy and 4 other Medical Specialists are ready to help you

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