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Is Thumb or Finger Sucking an Addiction?

Most parents expect their kids to suck their thumbs as infants and may even think it’s cute when they reach toddlerhood. But when a child sucks their fingers or thumb so constantly that they’re reluctant to stop even to learn to speak and communicate, parents are justifiably concerned.

Aside from the usual dangers of thumb sucking, such as dental deformation, blisters, and damage to the roof of the mouth, unrelenting thumb sucking may signal something deeper than just the self-comfort of imitating the sensation of breast or bottle feeding is going on. Why won’t a child stop? Why do they have a thumb or fingers in their mouth nearly every minute of the day?

Is it just a bad habit, or is thumb or finger sucking an addiction? Although not clinically defined as an addiction, thumb and finger sucking share many attributes of addictive behaviors.

Thumb Sucking Is Calming

Many addictions start as behaviors the addict perceives as beneficial. But thumb sucking has measurable, positive physiological effects for infants and toddlers. According to Psychology Today, the comfort a baby gets from thumb sucking can help normalize breathing and heart rate and even spur better digestion.

Thumb suckers learn to use the habit as a means of comfort and to alleviate boredom. The same Psychology Today article claims that research has found thumb-sucking children became emotionally independent at younger ages.

Thumb Sucking Releases Hormones

The calming sensation children derive from thumb and finger sucking has its basis in neurology. Thumb sucking slows neurotransmission, leading to a calm feeling of euphoria. The release of serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine facilitates this effect. These neurotransmitters attach to the brain’s pleasure centers, literally opioid receptors.

Addicts repeat the behavior that triggers pleasure. In that way, habitual thumb and finger sucking is similar to an addiction.

Thumb Sucking Is Hard To Quit, but Treatable

Like drug and alcohol addiction, thumb and finger sucking is hard to overcome. The pleasurable, soothing feeling it produces is a powerful motivation to keep indulging. While there is no “rehab” for thumb sucking, both thumb and finger sucking are treatable.

The T-Guard AeroThumb and AeroFinger products interfere with the sensation of suction that creates the pleasurable feeling a child craves. When the activity no longer has the desired effect, a child can move on to finding more appropriate ways to self-soothe and overcome feelings of anxiety and boredom.

Thumb sucking hasn’t been formally designated as an “addiction,” but it mimics it. The potential harm from prolonged thumb sucking is serious enough to warrant intervention. If a child hasn’t quit on their own by age three or four, seek advice from your pediatrician and pediatric dentist to assess any damage already done, and implement strategies, such as using the AeroThumb, to help the child break the habit.