Nail Biting: Causes & How To Stop It

Nail biting is a common habit among people. It’s considered as a pathological oral habit as well as grooming disorder. It is also known as onychophagia and the habit is characterized by uncontrollable nail biting. As a result of this, the fingernails and the tissue surrounding them get damaged. Although initially, nail biting is merely a cosmetic concern, if it continues for a long time, then it might become a severe, long-term problem.

Nail biting is in the grouping of body-focused repetitive behavior disorders, BFRBs, alongside many other disorders. According to researches, the process of nail-biting doesn’t usually begin before the age of 4, and there are many cases when it has begun between the ages of 4 and 6. As noticed, nail-biting begins from early childhood, and although some people might lose the habit, to some, it may continue well into adulthood.


Nail biting symptoms

One of the most evident symptoms of nail biting is the damage that is caused to the fingernails. According to researches, nail-biting might happen at the same time as other body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as hair pulling or skin picking – however, that’s not always the case. Research has suggested that people who bite their nails have admitted to feeling distressed before doing so, and then relief after biting their nails. Nail biting does not only cause damage to the aesthetics of the fingernails, but it might also cause mouth injuries, dental problems such as chipping of teeth, as well as one might become more exposed to different infections.

nail biting

Nail biting causes

When it comes to this bad habit, there are plenty of causes that might be making you bite your nails. Factors could be from boredom and all the way to genetics. See below for some of the nail-biting causes:

1. Preoccupation & Boredom

When a person is preoccupied or bored, they might unconsciously succumb to nail-biting.

2. Anxiety

The need to bite nails is reportedly related to a psycho-emotional state of anxiety. Researches conclude that people who bite their nails have more anxiety than the people who do not succumb to this habit.

3. Learned Behavior

Nail-biting can also be a learned behavior from the members of the family, according to research.

4. Perfectionism

According to a study, nail-biting is a nervous habit that might be a common occurrence to people who are perfectionists. Their actions help to soften the boredom, irritation, and even dissatisfaction.

5. Genetics

Onychophagia can also have a link to genetics, meaning some people have an inherited tendency to develop BFRBs (body-focused repetitive behavior).

nail biting



How to stop nail biting?

Trying to overcome the issue of biting your nails can be difficult. Especially if you have been biting your nails for long periods of time. As mentioned above, nail-biting begins in childhood and it may proceed into adulthood as well. Due to the various problems nail biting may cause, it’s important that we take action and try to break this habit.

I know first-hand that it is difficult and requires a lot of determination and patience. My fingernails had been bitten and ill-looking ever since I remember myself, and up until one year ago. I have been trying to break the habit for like 7 years, at least. But to no success, taking into consideration that used to give up. It was, however, at one point last year, that I tried again. And I succeed. Now I rejoice my beautifully manicured nails and I am truly glad to have broken the habit of nail-biting.

That’s why I want to guide you into the steps you should consider in order to break the habit of biting your nails by replacing it with a good one or eliminating it completely.

1. Be committed & patient

When you begin the process of breaking the habit, ensure you are committed, otherwise, you will not be able to take it to the end. Nails won’t grow or heal overnight, so being patient should be one of the most important traits you should cultivate.

2. Identify the triggers

Each person has their own triggers – they may vary from the presence of hangnails, or as mentioned above, anxiety, boredom, or stress. As to why recognizing what is causing the nail-biting is important, well first and foremost, by recognizing the triggers you might be able to find different ways to cope with the problems you might be facing and at the end of the day, that’s important.

3. Manicures

Research, as well as personal experience, proves how doing manicures and spending time on your nails is important. If you make effort in trying to make your nails look good and decent, then you will feel bad when it comes to biting them and causing them damage. Remember though, in the beginning, manicures might not look as good as you want them to, however, with the passage of time, your nails will grow and you will love them!

nail biting

4. Bad taste polish

There are bad taste nail polishes you can buy over the counter that will make you remove the fingers from your mouth due to their bad taste. If nothing else works, there is always this one.

5. Replace the bad habit with a good one

This one is important since it teaches you to replace a bad habit with a good one, or at least with one that does you no damage. For example, every time you see yourself wanting to succumb to nail-biting, go and take a stress ball, a book, or even go for a walk or do the chores. These are all things that will distract you from biting your nails.

6. Join forces with someone

There is always the option of joining forces with another person or a group of people. Tell someone who spends a lot of time around you to call you out the moment your nails get close to your mouth. This way they will make you conscious and aware and you will distract yourself elsewhere.

7. Think of the results

In an article about breaking bad habits, it’s mentioned how thinking of the successful results might be one of the things that motivate you to actually reach those results.


For more on how to stop nail biting, head over to our article on How To Stop Nail Biting – And Cultivate Patience & Self-Control While At It.