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Borderline Personality Disorder And Addiction

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 13, 2019

Borderline personality disorder is a mysterious and misunderstood problem that creates a wild and difficult emotional life for anyone who suffers from it. It often walks hand-in-hand with drug use, exacerbating addiction and making it even more severe.

If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs, there is a chance that borderline personality disorder may be an influence. Upon diagnosis, understanding this disorder, its influence on addiction, and its treatment method is crucial to regaining control of your life and beating addiction for good.

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality is a condition that makes life very difficult for anyone who suffers under its grip. It causes a person to have difficulty adjusting to and managing their emotions, creating unstable moods, erratic behavior, and trouble maintaining positive relationships. Many people with borderline personality disorder have psychotic episodes during which they are uncontrollable for the surrounding people who are attempting to help.

Sadly, the unbalanced nature of this condition often causes a variety of co-occurring disorders, such as depression, severe impulsiveness, self-harm behaviors (cutting, burning, or otherwise injuring yourself), potentially suicidal behaviors, struggles with sleeping, eating disorders, and the chance of falling victim to violence, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual.

If you believe you suffer from a borderline personality disorder, but have never been diagnosed, take a few moments to consider these common signs and symptoms. Although you should never self-diagnose problems as severe as a borderline personality disorder, understanding associated symptoms can help you gauge whether a professional psychiatric session is necessary for further investigation:

  • Severe reaction to minor emotional problems, such as panicking when not receiving an expected phone call or falling into a rage when someone is late for a visit
  • Fear of abandonment, whether real or imagined
  • Unrealistic sense of self that varies between positive and negative and which is very distorted from reality, such as thinking you are “fat” when you are underweight
  • Erratic and impulsive behavior, including spending excessive amounts of money, performing unsafe sexual acts, breaking the law recklessly, or even binge eating
  • Feeling empty or bored and unable to pin down your personal identity
  • Stress-related paranoia and feeling cut off from society and the people around you
  • Thoughts of suicide or multiple attempts at suicide when symptoms grow too severe

Unfortunately, another common problem regularly associated with a borderline personality disorder is falling victim to the allure of drug use. The unpredictable personality distortions and behaviors caused by this disorder make it extremely easy for a person to come into this unfortunate state.

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Statistics Indicate The Spread Of The Problem

Before taking a more detailed look at these co-occurring disorders, we’re going to briefly discuss how often borderline personality disorder occurs. According to the most recently reported statistics, about 1.6 percent of the American adult population suffers from this disorder. In a country of approximately 323 million, that is about five million people with this condition.

This high level is problematic because it has created a population of people who struggle to maintain balanced emotions and who fall, victim, in ever-increasing amounts, to the dangers of addiction. Even worse is the fact that this disease is so poorly understood. Experts don’t fully grasp why people develop a borderline personality disorder, beyond the possibility of genetic predisposition or the influence of their upbringing.

For example, people who have had a difficult personal life as a child (including issues with abandonment from their parents or a family history of addiction), often struggle to obtain emotional balance. This is especially true of people who have a family history of mental health problems, including depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, and other serious conditions.

The Influence Of Borderline Personality Disorder And Addiction

The Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration published a pamphlet entitled “What Is the Relationship Between BPD and SUDs?” What they found was telling, including this quote: “One study found that the prevalence of BPD among individuals seeking buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction exceeded 40 percent, and another found that nearly 50 percent of individuals with BPD were likely to report a history of prescription drug abuse.”

The reasons for this are two-fold. The extreme emotional shifts caused by borderline personality disorder often cause many of its sufferers to turn to drug use as a method for balancing their emotions and coping with the problem. Since many drugs cause a state of emotional stasis, they are highly sought after by people who might not even understand they have a problem.

The other way that borderline personality disorder influences addiction is the irrational behaviors it inspires. For example, people with this disorder are often bored, feel empty, and are looking for a purpose in life. Drugs often fill that difficult void and give people with borderline personality disorder a direction that is easy to understand. They may fall into the drug culture and attempt to find an identity as a user or even as a dealer or supplier.

However, borderline personality disorder also makes it extremely difficult for a person to recover from addiction. The same pamphlet quoted above stated that:

“A client with BPD and a co-occurring SUD presents some particular challenges. BPD is difficult to treat, partly because of the pervasive, intractable nature of personality disorders and partly because clients with BPD often do not adhere to treatment and often drop out of treatment.”

Sadly, this means that even people with borderline personality disorder who want to quit using often struggle to overcome the influence of their condition. However, a unique and highly individualized method of treatment, known as dialectical behavioral therapy, has been created as a way to help people with this condition overcome their disease.

The Importance Of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan in the 70s as a way to treat people who suffered from severe and frequent bouts of suicidal behavior. Linehan developed it specifically as a method for handling the occurrence of borderline personality disorder and managing its severity. It works as a way to change your negative cycle of behavior into a positive one in a way that also improves your overall mental health and balances your interactions with others.

Typically, dialectical behavioral therapy performs five functions: improving a patient’s motivation, improving their personal capabilities, helping create new replacement therapies, structuring their personal and emotional environment, and working positively with a therapist to manage their symptoms.

When treating co-occurring disorders, dialectical behavioral therapy is designed to help decrease a person’s reliance on substances and their physical discomfort, eliminate behaviors and triggers that contribute to their addiction, break the addictive cycle by creating new coping mechanisms, build stronger emotional bonds with sober friends and family members, and promote abstinence as a way of life.

As defined by Linehan and Dr. Linda A. Dimeff in the article “Dialectical Behavior[al] Therapy For Substance Abusers,” this process allows a patient to learn “…the behavioral skill of anticipating potential cues in the coming moments, hours, and days, and then proactively preparing responses to high-risk situations that otherwise might imperil abstinence.”

However, patients are also required to cease contact with people who influence their drug addiction or who might trigger a relapse into borderline personality disorder behaviors. Recovery from both of these conditions is a lifelong process and one that will challenge even the strongest person with the greatest will to regain a sober life.

While you are going through dialectical behavioral therapy, you will also be undergoing addiction treatment in a controlled environment. You will receive withdrawal assistance (to decrease the severity of your symptoms), a variety of treatments for any physical health problems caused by your addiction, alternative treatments (such as yoga or meditation), psychological assessment (for any other problems that might contribute to your addiction), and aftercare to help streamline your exit from rehab.

Remember that recovering from a borderline personality disorder and addiction doesn’t stop after treatment. You have to apply what you’ve learned every day to evade the negative influence of your conditions and avoid falling back into those behavior cycles. Thankfully, your treatment should have given you the personal strength you need to stay sober for life.

Master Your Recovery Today

Don’t let borderline personality disorder or addiction destroy your life for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. With help from a dialectical behavioral therapist and a skilled addiction expert, you can become the sober person you were always meant to be.

If you need help finding therapists you can trust, please don’t hesitate to contact us at today. Our skilled recovery experts will help connect you with a caring and healing rehab that will work as hard as you do to regain the health impacted by your addiction and borderline personality disorder.

National Institutes Of Mental Health - What Is Borderline Personality Disorder

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration - An Introduction To Co-Occurring Borderline Personality Disorder And Substance Abuse Disorders

Personality Disorder Awareness Network - Borderline Personality Disorder Statistics

US National Library Of Medicine National Institutes Of Health - Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Substance Abusers - Population Clock

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