Dealing with Extreme Nail Biting

Millions of Americans bite their nails regularly, and this condition is nothing new.  In fact, the first evidence of extreme nail biting was cited by the Greek philosopher, Cleanthes of Assos, who claimed he was completely compelled to bite his nails all the time. While it’s a common and age-old problem, that doesn’t make it any less serious. 

Furthermore, if you suffer from compulsive, extreme nail chewing behavior, it can have a torturous effect on your lifestyle.  Thankfully, there are strategies and treatments available that can potentially be your salvation. So read further for ways to deal with this condition along with suggested extreme nail biting treatments so you can live your best life.

When is Nail Biting Considered Extreme?

According to psychologist and executive director of the International OCD Foundation, Dr. Fred Penzel, everyone fusses, picks, or chews to a degree.  It is not uncommon for people to pick at nails, bite their lips, or fiddle with their hair – especially in stressful situations.  And let’s face it, life can be stressful. So, all of us are prone to take up an occasional nervous tic or habit as a way to cope with anxiety. This is normal, and to be expected. 

However, Dr. Penzel goes on to say that extreme nail biting in adults is a completely different ball of wax.  In his experience helping patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and body-focused repetitive disorders, he states that when excessive nail biting culminates to a point of doing serious (and consistent) personal damage and injury, then that behavior needs to be examined and treated by a medical professional.

What’s interesting about extreme nail biting is that it is not uncommon, but psychologists such as Dr. Penzel are just starting to scratch the surface of this compulsive behavior.  The good news is, great progress has been made in diagnosing and determining a prognosis for the mental/emotional side of extreme nail biting.  The downside is that there is much about the brain and compulsive behaviors that still remain unknown – even in terms of obsessive nail biting.

What is Onychophagia?

Onychophagia is a pathological disorder in which the sufferer is habitually compelled to bite his or her nails. It is a relatively common disorder and according to the National Library of Medicine, it affects about 6-45% of the American population.  The disorder is more prevalent in children than adults. 

While nail biting may usually be considered harmless, it can develop into a harmful, long-term habit with severe consequences. Onychophagia is clinically diagnosed when a patient has an uncontrollable, chronic compulsion to bite their nails, to the point of the ongoing destruction of the nails and surrounding skin.

The implications of onychophagia include harm incurred to teeth, gums, and damage to nails to the point of manifesting skin sores or abscesses.  Extreme nail biting in the form of onychophagia also affects the skin around the nails that may lead to serious infections as well as a higher risk of colds because germs are spreading from fingers to the mouth.

Issues Caused by Extreme Nail Biting

There are many unfortunate side effects to extreme nail biting in adults and children. Some of these include permanent damage and disfigurement to nails and skin around the nails.  As mentioned, other issues caused by excessive nail biting include tooth damage, mouth pain, and gum disease. Lastly and most commonly, onychophagia can lead to bacterial and fungal infections.  Some of these infections can be severe or even life-threatening.  Left untreated, nail infections could lead to sepsis which is a condition in which an infection consumes the entire body and the organs begin to shut down.

What Causes Extreme Nail Biting? 

If you’re like most people who struggle with nail biting, you may find that the behavior is automatic. You may not even know you’re chewing half the time.  This behavior is usually a coping mechanism, as nail biting is typically an unconscious way many people respond to stress.  Here are a few examples of the deeper underlying conditions that could be at the root of excessive nail biting.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition in which the sufferer has no impulse control to stop repeating destructive behavioral patterns. Excessively washing hands, the overwhelming need to have an orderly environment, or obsessive cleaning are some examples of OCD behavior.  Additionally, nail biting is another symptom of OCD.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is another mental health ailment that may spur on nail biting. This is especially true in children with ADHD who also struggle with abandonment issues or separation anxiety. Bear this in mind as you consider how to stop nail biting in children because these cases will need a more comprehensive and sensitive approach to combating excessive nail chewing.


Oppositional defiant disorder is when a child “acts out” with disobedience or has defiance against parents and authority figures. The cause of it is not largely known, but one of its side effects is excessive nail biting in children.

Tourette Syndrome

This is a disorder of the nervous system that typically starts in childhood. It manifests with the sufferer being unable to control unwanted body movements (such as tics or slight convulsions).  Tourette’s is commonly known to cause spontaneous and uncontrolled eruptions of verbal phrases that are often considered inappropriate.  Nail biting is a common behavior in those who struggle with Tourette Syndrome and is seen in almost 30% of patients suffering from this nervous disorder.

Stress and Anxiety

While the aforementioned nervous disorders are relevant and valid causes for excessive nail biting, sometimes the cause is due to extreme and overwhelming anxiety. If this is the case, close attention must be paid to calming yourself or your child and building a peaceful environment to prevent excessive nail biting.

When Should You See a Doctor? 

The best answer to this question is to consult a physician when extreme nail biting has gotten to such a heightened level that it is affecting your quality of life or impairing your physical health.  Please understand that nail biting is often a reaction or by-product of some deeper issue plaguing your mind or emotions.  Therefore, it’s important to treat the whole condition rather than treat the symptom (in this case, nail biting).  So, if you or your child is agonizing physically from nail biting and constantly under emotional duress, it is time to see a doctor.

How to Stop the Habit

As we’ve discussed, there are many reasons extreme nail biting comes into play in our daily lives. Your best course of action is to identify the source or reason for the problem and move forward with a full-spectrum treatment. This may involve medical treatment combined with mental health assistance.

Honest 10 Kit nail file brush hangnail trimmer stickers progress chart

In milder cases, you may be able to thwart the bane of nail biting with at-home treatments and comprehensive care.  There are advanced products on the market today that can provide you with everything you need to assist you or your child in breaking the nail biting habit once and for all.  For instance, you can use Honest10 to help stop extreme nail biting which is known to render impressive results.

Honest10 is a unique nail biting treatment in that it attacks the habit from a multi-pronged approach.  It is an all-in-one kit providing you with a quality hangnail trimmer, two-sided nail file, and a progress chart calendar to mark your advancements in the fight against nail biting.  Furthermore, Honest10 has the most powerful bitter polish solution on the market while still being safety tested and pediatric approved. 


While extreme nail biting is a condition that may stem from deep-seated mental conditions, that doesn’t mean it has to control your life.  And you may find that your compulsion for nail chewing might not be as severe as some of the circumstances discussed in this article.  

Whatever your case might be, help is available.  Whether you opt for mental health counseling in tandem with helpful extreme nail biting treatments such as Honest10, or elect to employ independent emotional behavior strategies – know that you can overcome the perils of constant nail biting.  With determination, investigation, and appropriate choices for your needs, ridding yourself of the nail biting habit can become a reality