Sovereign Health Group Blog

Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction: A Deadly Combination
by Lise Millay Stevens

05-23-17 Category: Addiction

Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction: A Deadly Combination </br><small> by Lise Millay Stevens</small>

May is Mental Health Month, but what has been less publicized is that May is also Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month. Also known as BPD, this serious mental disorder that affects more than 4 million U.S. men, women and children often goes undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and/or untreated. BPD has symptoms that make it difficult to have normal relationships, keep a job and function normally in life. Life becomes pretty difficult and lonely; many who have the disorder turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve the stress and stigma of their disease. In the worst-case scenarios, some individuals take their own lives when their inability to cope with life becomes overwhelming to the point of hopelessness.

What Are the Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder?

There are certain symptoms indicating that you or a loved one might have BPD and/or an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Ironically, BPD can be easily missed in people with addictions because both conditions share similar characteristics, including:

  • Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors
  • Mood swings that range from being severely depressed to having manic periods of intense energy
  • Manipulative, deceitful actions and behavior
  • A lack of concern for one’s own health and safety, and repeatedly engaging in dangerous behavior despite of the risks
  • A pattern of instability in relationships, jobs and finances
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Distorted view of reality

There are other telltale signs of BPD, including panicked and frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, and unstable personal relationships that are extremely close and turn suddenly to dislike and anger. Other serious symptoms are common, such as having a distorted self-image, chronic feelings of emptiness, loss of touch with reality, and having stress-related, paranoid thoughts.

Borderline Personality Disorder

There are circumstances that can increase the chance of having BPD. Although research hasn’t found an exact cause, it often runs in the family—frequently, parents, children or siblings also have BPD or another personality disorder. BPD is also more common in dysfunctional families; children who feel neglected or suffer the trauma of sexual or other abuse have a higher risk for the condition.

The brain itself can play a role; the impulsivity, emotional instability and unpredictable behavior associated with BPD may be caused by abnormalities in areas of the brain that control mood, behavior and emotions. The brain’s chemistry may also be involved, as imbalances in certain neurotransmitters can also affect how a person thinks, feels and behaves.

A Deadly Duo

People who have BPD are more likely than others to use drugs and alcohol to numb feelings such as their fear of abandonment and feelings of anger. Although addiction with any mental health condition—a so called dual diagnosis—is always serious, the combination of BPD and substance use is particularly lethal. Drugs and alcohol tend to bring out the very worst symptoms in people with BPD, such as rage, depression and suicidal thoughts. This is of grave concern as statistics show us that suicide is a staggering 400 times higher in people with BPD compared with the national suicide rate.

Bipolar Personality Disorder with Addiction Can Be Treated

Because BPD and addiction same many of the same characteristics, it can be hard to distinguish one disorder from the other, but treating both simultaneously is important. There are barriers to overcome when treating people with BPD as they are prone to making impossible demands, becoming hostile and paranoid, and may suddenly turn on their providers. However, there are treatment options that have been successful in helping people to lead healthier and happier lives.

One approach that has proven effective in both children and adults with BPD is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which can help patients to manage the overly-intense emotions and mood swings that are typical of the disorder. DBT helps patients to understand and manage these extreme emotions by developing skills in the following areas:

  • Support: DBT helps patients identify their strengths so they can build on them; highlighting strength also helps improve self-esteem and their outlook on life
  • Cognition: DBT helps patients make changes in behaviors, thought and assumptions that are damaging; for example, instead of, “If I get mad at a family member, they won’t love me anymore,” remembering “People don’t get along perfectly all the time.”
  • Mindfulness: The therapist helps patients to be aware of triggers for mood changes to help them control mood swings
  • Avoiding drugs/alchohol: Patients are urged to become aware of environments and relationships associated with substance use so they can avoid certain people and places
  • Reducing cravings for medication: There are several anti-addiction types that help minimize drug and alcohol cravings; patients also encouraged to identify situations that trigger urges to use so they can manage their emotions without using
  • Establishing goals: The therapist promotes a step-by-step approach to sobriety such as going one day without using, then another day, etc.
  • Psychotherapy: One-on-one sessions with the therapist helps to teach patients how to adapt in stressful situations; special emphasis is given to suicidal feelings and anger management; the therapist encourages patients to concentrate on activities and relationships that improve their quality of life and lift their mood
  • Group therapy: By hearing from other patients with BPD, addiction and other disorders, patients can learn coping skills from their peers; a group setting also helps them practice regulating their emotions, developing interpersonal skills and practicing mindfulness

Borderline personality disorder is very serious mental disease that is often accompanied by addiction to drugs or alcohol. People with this problem have high rates depression and suicide, and find it almost impossible to navigate the responsibilities of a job and relationships with family and friends. If you think you or a loved one has BPD, seek professional help as soon as possible. Remember, there is hope in treatment for BPD and addiction.

About Sovereign Health

Sovereign Health’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of high-quality behavioral health treatment services for adults and adolescents, including support services for family members. One factor that differentiates Sovereign from other treatment providers has been the company’s ability to offer separate mental health and addiction or dual diagnosis treatment programs at its facilities. For more information, visit

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