Christina Pearson’s hand unconsciously kept searching through the hair on her head to find the “right” hair that “needed” to be pulled as she lay on her couch immersed in a book. By the time she finished the novel, an entire pile of blond hair lay at her side.
She was thirteen years old at the time and couldn’t believe or understand why she had compulsively pulled out so much of her own hair; neither could the doctor who examined her.
Through out her twenties, she remained captive to the inner compulsion to pull out her hair or pick at her skin terrified that she would be found out by others and fearful that she would never be in control of her own life again. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she learned there was a name for her condition.
Today, Christina runs a successful business, is on medication and uses various therapies to control her illness called trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder that causes people to pull out hair from their scalp, eyelashes, pubic hair and other parts of their body. Christina knew others must suffer like herself so 18 years ago she started the Trichotillomania Learning Center where there is support for the other 2-4% of the population that suffers from the uncontrollable urges of trichotillomania.
Treatment for trichotillomania is typically focused around Cognitive Behavioral Therapy counseling and medication. Medications that have been found to be the most helpful are serotonin re-uptake blocking drugs. There are alternative therapies such as biofeedback and support groups which also assist in treatment. Trichotillomania has been a difficult obsessive disorder to classify but is thought to fall into what is called Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) along with skin picking and chronic nail biting.
A new study treatment by Dr. Jon E. Grant and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis shows promise. The antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine, an over the counter vitamin supplement was given to 25 people in doses of 1,200 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams per day for 12 weeks. The 25 people in the placebo group did not receive the supplement.