Nail Biting: Mental Disorder Or Just A Bad Habit?( http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/10/01/161766321/nail-biting-mental-disorder-or-just-a-bad-habit)
by Amy Standen
Do you bite your nails? For 30 years, I did. We nail biters can be "pathological groomers" — people for whom normal grooming behaviors, like skin picking or hair pulling, have become virtually uncontrollable.
But psychiatry is changing the way it thinks about pathological grooming, and these changes will be reflected in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM[->0], short for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A new version[->1] is coming out early next year, and it puts pathological grooming in the same category as another disorder you've probably heard of: obsessive compulsive disorder[->2], or OCD.
This rethinking gives pathological groomers some new ways to think about those behaviors.
I can tell you the exact moment I became a nail biter. I was 6 years old, watching my mom get dressed for work. She paused to mull something over, chewing on a nail. My reaction: "How cool! How grown-up! I think I'll try it."
I never stopped. It was embarrassing — like wearing your neuroses on your sleeve. At parties, I learned to wrap my fingers all the way around my wine glass, so that my nails faced my chest. I hated filling out forms in public places.
Recently, something happened that made me finally quit biting my nails. I'll get to that in a bit. But I was feeling quite pleased with myself when I showed them to Carol Mathews[->3], a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. "Your cuticles are pushed back. It's not bad. Looks like you're a recovered nail biter is what I'd say," she pointed out.
Mathews specializes in pathological grooming — a group of behaviors that includes nail biting, hair pulling, called trichotillomania[->4], and skin picking, known as dermatillomania[->5].
"They are behaviors that stem from normal grooming — the kind of thing that...