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Teen Shares Self-Injury Secret

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abuse-self-harm-27-healthyplaceSelf-injury is often called "cutting" because that's what most self-injurers do, but there are many ways to self-harm.

A study published this week shows 17 percent of respondents at two Ivy League schools have self-injured. And 75 percent of those have done it more than once.

The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith met a young woman from Peoria, Ill., who says self-injury can become a dangerous addiction.

Teens and Self-Injury

Looking at Alicia Moore, 17, it's hard to see the traces of a troubled little girl but they're there. From a young age, Alicia was exceptional — a brilliant student, a talented musician and dancer. But she hated herself for it.

"I'd get made fun of for being smart. Getting A's on tests. Stuff like that," she remembers. "It was devastating. I thought there was something wrong with me. And that it ... was always gonna be like that."

Isolated and alone, Alicia found the only way she felt better emotionally was to hurt herself physically. The first time she cut was in fifth grade.

"I ripped the soda can in half and I just cut myself right here almost on instinct," Alicia explains. "I just remember kind of looking down and be like, 'I did that.' And I just remembered just having kind of this euphoric, everything's okay."

Alicia started down a dark path, where self-mutilation became her only solace.

She says she was addicted to hurting herself. "It was, I feel, the smallest amount of anything. And it was, 'OK, I can cut myself. And it'll go away,' " Alicia says.

Alicia found plenty of ways to cut herself; some were obvious, like razor blades, safety pins and scissors. Other methods took some creativity, like using broken CDs and even ordinary buttons. All were acts of a desperate and hurting girl. She even secretly made a video, recoding her despair. "I hate being me, that's the bottom line," she said in the video.

Karen Conterio, co-author of "Bodily Harm," says there are several reasons why people self-injure. Self-loathing is typical for self-injurers. "Self-injury can be used as a punishment, it's intentional. Self-injury can be used as a way to say 'Look at how much I hate myself,' " she explains.

Alicia says she wasn't trying to kill herself. "I didn't cut myself to try to kill myself. I cut myself to release all of this emotional pain that I felt like I couldn't handle anymore," she says.

Self-Injury a Secret Activity

Alicia is not alone. In a study of more than 2,800 college students published this week in Pediatrics magazine, a little more than one in six reported having self-injured.

And of those who self-injured, nearly 40 percent said that nobody knew about their behavior.

Alicia tried to keep her cutting a secret, but her parents knew something wasn't right.

Her mom took it upon herself to investigate, trying to find out what was wrong.

The Moores found Alicia's online diary, and pages of bloodstained poetry with chilling, macabre lines. "Can't take the anger, can't take the pain. Must relieve the only way I can. Cut. Cut. Cut," she had written.

"It was just hard seeing the signs of self-injury. You want so much for your kids," Alicia's mom tearfully explains. "To have 'em go through something you have no control over is really hard."

The Moore family sought help from Amy Simpkins, a social worker with Catholic Charities. To keep Alicia safe, Amy suggested she start using alternatives to self-harm including taking out aggression on objects, like her desk, instead of herself.

Teen's Path to Self-Injury Recovery

After years of working with Amy and her family and starting antidepressants, Alicia slowly overcame her negative image of herself and stopped cutting and began to move on. Today, the self-harm scars on her skin are barely visible and the internal scars are fading, too.

"She's a great young lady. And I think she's finally starting to realize that," says her mom.

"She said to me, 'You know, it's okay bein' a bright girl,'" Alicia's dad remembers.

"I don't think that I'll ever fully be able to say I'm completely done with it," Alicia says. "It's completely over. But I'm at a point right now where I'm stable. I'm happy. I can function. So I'm pretty sure that this is where I'm gonna be."

The major warning sign for parents seems obvious, but is often missed: unexpected cuts and injuries.

If you see them, experts say it's best to confront your child about it — it's better to ask and be wrong than not ask at all.

Read and watch more self-harm stories.

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