The phenomenology, pathophysiology, and psychopharmacology of repetitive self-injurious behavior (rSIB) are reviewed. Although numerous neurotransmitter systems are thought to be involved in the initiation and maintenance of rSIB, the majority of clinical studies attend to the role of serotonin or endogenous opioids. This focus has emerged from a conceptualization of rSIB as a problem of impulse control (primarily mediated by serotonin) and/or as a maladaptive pain-related behavior (ultimately mediated by opioids). A developmental perspective of rSIB is emphasized, highlighting the biased prevalence of rSIB among patients with mental retardation and severe personality disorders and the significance of critical developmental events leading to pathology in "pedagogical" neural circuits. A novel typology is offered in an effort to better match interventions with rSIB subtypes. Achievement of this ultimate goal however, must await further research.
Copyright 2000 by W.B. Saunders Company