Q. I have bitten my fingernails for years. I’ve stopped several times for as long as six months, but just like a smoker, I can’t kick the habit for good.
The biggest problem is when I’m reading, watching TV or a movie or driving. It leaves my fingers and cuticles ugly and very sensitive. How can I quit?
A. There are surprisingly few well-controlled studies of treatments for nail biting. Many health professionals view this habit as a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some data suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy could be effective (Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, May, 2009).
Over-the-counter approaches involve painting bitter-tasting substances on the nails to remind the person to stop biting. They include products such as Mavala Stop or Control-It!, with denatonium. Some people also find that clear nail polish helps remind them not to bite their nails.
A preliminary study suggests that the nutritional supplement N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) may also be helpful in stopping this habit (CNS Spectrums, July, 2009). This nutraceutical may help with impulsivity.