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Clin Pediatr (Phila). 1989 Aug;28(8):340-6.

Self-harm behaviors (carving) in female adolescent drug abusers.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church, Virginia.


Deliberate self-lacerations by rebellious or delinquent adolescent girls, known by them as "carving," may be erroneously diagnosed as a suicide gesture. Carving is an important physical sign suggesting possible drug and alcohol abuse during adolescence. Eighty-five adolescent female patients in a long-term outpatient, self-payment, therapeutic community-type of adolescent drug treatment program, participated in a descriptive survey of "carving" behaviors. Forty-one girls (48%) admitted to deliberate cutting of their own wrists, arms, or other body parts without suicidal intent. Fifteen of the 85 girls (18%) cut themselves six or more times. Many girls had scarified their bodies with their boyfriends' initials as a visible means of demonstrating their affection and loyalty. They also carved rock group symbols or a Christian cross. Large and disfiguring scars were noted on 14 patients. The girls explained the behavior as a method of dealing with depressed affect, anger, emotional pain, or emptiness. Suicide attempts, usually by purposeful overdose of medication, had been made by 24 (59%) of 41 girls who carved themselves. Multiple suicide attempts were associated with habitual carving. Epidemics of carving, led by one or more angry, depressed, or lonely adolescents, may occur in closed facilities such as correctional institutions and drug abuse treatment facilities.

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