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Is Chewing on Clothes in Adults a Symptom of Something More Serious?

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It is perfectly normal for kids to chew things. Once the teeth start growing, curiosity will make them try and bite everything. But what happens if the behavior continues? Chewing clothes in adults can be seen as a symptom of a larger problem and may point to something severe.

In this article, we will explore the potential reasons behind this behavior and discuss possible solutions. Whether you are an adult who chews on their clothes or someone concerned about a loved one's behavior, read on to learn more.

What Does It Mean?

In the majority of cases, chewing is a sensory need. A child chewing on clothing could show signs of autism, ADHD, pica disorder, and anxiety (and the same thing applies to grownups.) As soon as teeth stop growing, the child should lose interest in chewing.

Anxiety is a problem for both children and adults. Approximately 40% of all children with autism experience some form of anxiety. When they start to feel overwhelmed, their reflexes will kick in, and they will start chewing something that isn’t food. This is their own method of managing stress and anxiety, and it is working.

The main question here is whether the person craves non-food or if that is just a way to deal with sensory issues or anxiety. Pica disorder can lead to intoxication if a person swallows something that’s not edible. Moreover, chewing non-food can damage one’s teeth. Abrasive materials will destroy enamel with ease, leading to tooth decay and other dental problems.

What Is SDP?

Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD is one of the most common reasons for chewing clothes. A person with SPD will experience itching, and they can be irritated by things someone without the disorder wouldn’t even notice. And anything can trigger SDP. It mostly depends on the person, but it could be loud noises, specific scents, materials, and so on.

Needless to say, this can have a significant impact on one’s life. The disorder can complicate even the most basic of daily activities. Hair brushing, tags on clothing, swimming, different textures, and even wearing shoes can trigger the reaction. Hypersensitivity can be one of the reasons why a person would try to occupy themselves and focus on something familiar and comfortable, like chewing clothes.

This type of sensory overload is often noticed in people who have autism. As such, it can be considered one of the signs or symptoms. Children with ADHD often show signs of SDP, and it can have a significant impact on mental health. In the ideal scenario, you will be diagnosed and start working on methods that will help you feel better.

How to Deal With It?

As we mentioned, the first thing to do is to try and discover the reason why someone is chewing clothes. Do they have an oral fixation? Is it just a habit? Boredom? Or is there a serious problem that needs to be addressed?

If the issue is caused by stress or anxiety, the only way to solve it is to discover what’s causing the anxiety in the first place. After that, you will need to work on methods that will keep you calmer and avoid negative thoughts and pressure.

The same thing applies to oral fixation. The idea is to focus your mind on not doing it. While chewing your collar or a sleeve might seem like a reasonable thing, you will need to resist the urge. The best option is to talk to a specialist and start working on a way that will eliminate the need for chewing non-food.

It is worth mentioning that issues like SDP will require a different approach. If something is bothering you, you will need to find a way to deal with it. Loud music can be turned down, clothes can be changed, and so on. The only thing that you need to remember is that there is always a solution. While it might not be easy, it is something you will be able to achieve with enough work and effort.

ABA Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is a way of learning new skills, coping mechanisms, and behaviors. While the majority of these therapies focus on children, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find an applied behavior analysis therapist to help you with your problem.

ABA therapy is an evidence-based intervention that has been proven to be effective in treating a wide range of behavioral issues. During ABA therapy, the therapist will work with you to develop a plan to help you overcome your chewing on clothes behavior.

After the trial is done, the clinician will be able to provide more details on the situation. It is just one of many ways to try and find the answer to the problem. You can also try out meditation, breathing exercises, chewing gum, and anything else that will help you distract your mind from your clothes.


Chewing on clothes in adults can be a symptom of an underlying problem. While it might not seem significant, it can lead to dental problems and other complications if left untreated. The reasons behind the behavior can range from sensory processing disorder to anxiety, and finding the root of the problem is crucial.

If you or a loved one is struggling with this behavior, it is essential to seek professional help. ABA therapy is one option that has been proven to be effective in treating behavioral issues, and there are many other methods that can be tried. Remember that there is always a solution and that with enough effort and work, you can overcome this behavior and improve your quality of life.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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