Nail-Biting Could Soon Be Classified As A Compulsive Disorder

Nail-biting may soon be considered a type of obsessive compulsive disorder in the upcoming version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Nail-biting is currently listed as “not otherwise classified.”

The DSM will also include other “pathological grooming” habits such as skin-picking and hair-pulling.

Dr. Nilay Shah, medical director of the Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco, New York, said, “The beauty is that a categorization in the DSM-V gives it a whole new light. And the research institutions can have a unified definition and approach that will lead to drug company and NIH funding.”

Not everyone who bites their nails will be diagnosed with OCD under the new classification. Dr. Carol Matthews, a psychiatrist at the University of California in San Francisco, told Women’s Health, “As with hair pulling and skin picking, nail biting isn’t a disorder unless it is impairing, distressing, and meets a certain clinical level of severity.”


Clinical severity occurs when the person has “bitten so much that they are getting infections,” according to Matthews. “There is physical damage that is impairing their ability to user their hands.”

NPR says that OCD and pathological grooming behaviors are similar to the extent that they both involve doing a certain behavior to the extreme. However, “in OCD, the compulsion is really unwanted,” Matthews told NPR. Pathological grooming, on the other hand, is “rewarding. It feels good.”

Lawrence E. Gibson, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, says nail-biting can “contribute to skin infection, aggravate existing conditions of the nail bed, and increase the risk of colds and other infections by encouraging the spread of germs from the nails and fingers to the lips and mouth.”

Do you think nail-biting should be considered a type of OCD?