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Trichotillomania: Hair-Pulling Disorder Causes, Treatments

The Hair Pulling in "Alice, Darling" Has a Name: Trichotillomania

  • Trichotillomania is a mental health condition characterized by pulling hair from the body.
  • It can be caused by stress or negative emotions and can lead to other health issues.
  • Here, a dermatologist answers all your questions about trichotillomania, including how to treat it.

After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022, "Alice, Darling" is set to release in theaters on Jan. 20. In the movie, Anna Kendrick plays a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship who is unwittingly drawn into an intervention by her best friends. Throughout the film, Kendrick's character deals with this stress in a myriad of ways, one of which includes pulling her hair from her head. The scene may be familiar if you've seen the film "Young Adult," which shows Charlize Theron's character doing the same, as did Patricia Clarkson's character in "Sharp Objects," only in her case with her eyelashes.

The reality is, this act of hair pulling has a name: trichotillomania. What's more, it's a relatively common mental health disorder that impacts five to 10 million people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association, with a number of potential causes. To better help you understand the condition, board-certified dermatologist Chris Tomassian, MD, founder of The Dermatology Collective, breaks down what you should know about trichotillomania ahead.

What Is Trichotillomania?

The condition, called trichotillomania, is a hair-pulling disorder that was first described in ancient Greece. Falling under the category of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it causes people to pull hair from their bodies, often as a response to extreme emotions or unfavorable circumstances.

"Many have trouble controlling the impulse to pluck or remove their own hair, which can lead to patchy hair loss on the scalp or the eyebrows," Dr. Tomassian says, adding that the condition is disproportionately more common among women. "For women, it typically starts in their childhood."

What Causes Trichotillomania?

Like other conditions that fall under the OCD spectrum, trichotillomania can be caused by an impulse that arises from being affected by negative stimuli. "It is thought to be habit or impulse control disorder that is in response to negative emotions or stimulus to alleviate stress," Dr. Tomassian tells POPSUGAR. In the case of this specific disorder, compulsion may look like someone ripping out hair from their head, eyelashes, or eyebrows amongst other areas.

The Impact of Trichotillomania

While the physical impact of trichotillomania can be bald patches on the head, eyebrows, or body, it can also take an emotional toll and be emotionally debilitating. People have reported problems socializing and properly functioning in groups, due to feelings of embarrassment or shame.

Additionally, some people may ingest the hair, leading to other health complications. "There are patients who also lick or eat their hair after pulling it out, which can form a nondigestible ball that can lead to intestinal obstruction," Dr. Tomassian says. This can lead to the creation of a hairball, the inability for food or stool to move freely, and even infections.

Treatment For Trichotillomania

Even though it is often considered a chronic disorder, there are treatment options for trichotillomania. "Treatment for this disorder typically falls to behavioral therapy as well as the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)," Dr. Tomassian says. "The former is a great option for many people as treatment typically also requires intervention from psychiatrists and psychologists as well."

This means that you can get a specialized care team to help you understand this disorder holistically, which in turn can help you learn how to better manage symptoms and ultimately get to the root of the problem.

Image Source: Lionsgate
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