Self‐injurious behavior as endogenous neurochemical self‐administration

Travis Thompson, Frank Symons, Dawn Delaney, Cindy England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The compulsive and deeply disturbing character of self‐injurious behavior (SIB) makes it one of the most difficult behavior problems to understand scientifically and treat clinically. We review evidence implicating endogenous opioid peptides and the neurotransmitter dopamine in SIB. Next, we describe similarities between the self‐administration of cocaine and morphine by laboratory animals and self‐injury by people with mental retardation. We discuss shared behavioral and neurochemical properties that suggest common mechanisms that may be responsible for both the persistent, damaging behavior patterns characteristic of some forms of SIB and the addictive self‐administration of cocaine and morphine. Multifaceted treatment approaches are explored, based on a better understanding of underlying mechanisms. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalMental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


  • Self‐injury
  • dopamine
  • endogenous opoids
  • mental retardation
  • self‐administration


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