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Compulsive Nail Biting

Shalu Bhatti Apr 28, 2019
Compulsive nail biting is when you can't have enough of your fingernails. Where they act as a means of relaxation, or displaying your inner nervousness. Do you know that it is listed as the symptoms of compulsive disorder in the 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders'?
The other name for compulsive nail biting is Nail Biting Disorder. It is also known as Onychophagia. Although, biting one's nails is a common human tendency, too much of it can definitely prove harmful, both on a physical and psychological level.
A person is said to have this disorder, when a repetitive behavior towards biting and destroying the fingernails, as well as the surrounding skin and cuticles, is observed. Most people find this activity to be the only way to calm themselves.
It is an unconscious activity done by a person, wherein most of the time, one doesn't even realize how they become a slave of it! Psychiatrists believe this disorder to be a form of impulsive control disorder, and generally people having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), have this as well.


This habit is very common in children, especially those aged between 10 to 18 years. While this is a very commonly noticeable human behavior, it usually stops when children reach their adulthood. Although, in some cases, it can continue till the age of 30, and then stop on its own.
For those who find it difficult to overcome this disorder, the culprits for this condition could be both environmental and biological factors. Biting nails helps them stimulate and calm their minds, giving them the motivation to think. Many people also do this, in order to achieve perfection in the way their nails appear.
However, in most cases, the more they bite to make their nails look good, the worse they become. With time, the brain programs itself and causes the person to bite nails when looking for stimulation, calmness, and perfection.

How to Stop

Nail biting can damage the cuticles and surrounding skin severely. If you have the habit, then just looking at your fingers will give you the picture. The skin around your nails would be broken, the shape of the nails would be uneven, the area around would be red, swollen, and even bleeding when you bite again.
All these signs can lead to many problems in your day-to-day life. If left untreated, this disorder can also lead to deformed and abnormal nail growth. There are many remedies, treatments, and lifestyle changes, that can help in getting rid of this addiction. These are mentioned in the next section.


One effective remedy is to consume the vitamin B inositol. Intake of this vitamin helps reduce the urge to bite nails. Inositol enhances serotonin in the brain which helps treat disorders related to OCD. Other remedies include the following.
  • Apply a bitter solution on the nails so that whenever you bite on them, the bitter taste stops you from continuing.
  • Wear gloves or keep your hands engaged all the time.
  • Keep your nails trimmed. This way you wouldn't be tempted to bite them as it would eventually hurt you.


The treatment includes both medications and psychotherapy. The medications are usually antidepressants, which are also used to treat patients of obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychotherapy includes cognitive behavior therapy which involves many useful techniques as follows.
  • Self-monitoring: This makes the patient aware of his/her behavior and increases awareness towards nail biting, so that the person can have a sense of control through self-awareness and monitoring.
  • Habit Reversal Training: It is a four-phase technique which teaches the person to relax, breathe, feel more centered, and indulge in muscle response exercises.
  • Stimulus Control: This technique helps the patient identify and control the factors that trigger the habit of chewing nails.
  • Competing Response: This technique focuses to keep the patient busy with other alternatives, so that the hands are always busy and there is reduction in the urge to gnaw.
This "harmless" habit can turn into a hampering disorder if proper attention is not given to it in due time. It can lead to consequences that can affect your social, personal, as well as professional life. They say the first impression is the last impression.
And definitely, no one makes a good impression when he/she is constantly seen biting their nails all the time. Make sure that you control your habits, so that your habits don't control you and your life. Take care.
Disclaimer: This content is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice.