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Dealing with Adult Trichotillomania

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/28/2011

Trichotillomania refers to the practice of hair pulling. This is a distressing condition and even if adults desire to stop it, they are often unable to without help. This article offers lots of use advice on how to deal with trichotillomania in adults.

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    How do Friends and Family Deal with Adult Trichotillomania?

    Many adults devise ways to hide their hair pulling problem. These include the way they style their hair, limiting activities such as swimming and blaming hair loss on other conditions such as hereditary baldness. When friends and family find out that someone they know has been hair pulling, it often comes as a great shock to them.

    In some cases, sufferers may be relieved once their secret is out. The following suggestions can prompt helpful discussions and help adult hair pullers to find support from their loved ones:

    • Discuss the triggers of adult trichotillomania and ask if family members would like to know more about the condition.
    • Have an open discussion about how family members should react if they catch an adult pulling out their hair.
    • Adult trichotillomania can cause bald spots and patches. Is it appropriate to point these out and how should the subject be broached?
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    How can Adults Stop Pulling their Hair Out?

    There are a number of ways adults can handle the problem of hair pulling. Medication is one of these and is a relatively new approach to treating trichotillomania. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are often the first choice and if they fail, lithium or naltrexone may be tried.

    Psychological interventions are grouped together and called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Behavior therapy techniques involve identifying environments that encourage hair pulling and supplying an alternate behavior to keep the hands busy. This may be squeezing a ball or clenching one’s fist.

    Cognitive therapy works with the mental events and thought processes that accompany adult trichotillomania. This approach can help correct distorted thinking about hair pulling and may also help with depression and anxiety. The person is trained to recognize negative thoughts and change them to positive ones.

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    Assessing the Severity of Trichotillomania in Adults

    Many adults with trichotillomania live in denial as to the severity of their hair pulling. It is a good idea to undergo a complete hair-pulling evaluation to establish when, where and how often they are pulling hair. The assessment should also include the triggers for the behavior, any family history of the condition and any other psychological problems.

    The results of such assessments may prompt the person to seek ongoing professional help. A combined approach of medication, CBT and visits to a psychologist can bring about a great reduction in trichotillomania in adults.

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    Support Groups for Adults with Trichotillomania

    There are many support groups and organizations that work with hair pullers. The Trichotillomania Learning Center in the United States is an organization that works exclusively with trichotillomania and has support groups in many states. Meeting other people who are fighting to overcome their hair pulling can be an encouraging experience and helps sufferers to deal with their condition. Internet groups also exist and can offer moral support to adults with trichotillomania.

    Adult trichotillomania can be dealt with through a multi-faceted approach. Support from family and friends can be valuable and medicine and CBT can help break the cycle of repetitive hair pulling. Support groups are great places to find encouragement and hear success stories of those who have overcome their trichotillomania.

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    Resources

    http://www.trich.org/about/for-adults.html

    Help for Hair Pullers, Nancy J Keuthen, Dan J Stein & Gary A Christenson, Raincoast Books, 2001

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