Alcohol and Borderline Personality Disorder
The abuse of alcohol can cause great physical and mental strain. People afflicted with Borderline Personality Disorder are no different, but they are more likely to pick up and abuse alcohol.
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What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is a mental disorder that has been misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misdiagnosed over the years. It is characterized by mood swings, changes in behavior and confidence, and sabotaging relationships. This can make it seem like a complicated issue, but it’s simple at its core. People afflicted with BPD are more in tune with the feelings of others than people without the disorder. People with BPD, or ‘borderline Empathy’ as coined by a 1975 paper, don’t just perceive others emotional state, but experience it themselves. Naturally, this causes a great deal of undue stress on a person, especially when they don’t understand why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. Eventually, it can reach the point where their mental health begins to deteriorate. The variety of symptoms that many cases experience are tied to this underlying cause.
How Alcohol Affects People with BPD
Alcohol has become an all too common form of self-medication for many people dealing with mental illness. This is frequently the case in individuals suffering from disorders who are looking to dull their senses and temporarily escape from their reality. People with BPD are no different in this regard; however, addiction can come on more quickly and become more severe.
A trait that people diagnosed with BPD tend to share is an addictive personality, not just for a single substance, but anything that can provide some kind of stimulus. While the full reasons behind this are not understood, the severity of the issue is clear. Individuals with BPD can develop an addiction to anything from alcohol, to narcotics, to spending or giving away money they don’t have. In any case, the addiction is always detrimental to the health of the afflicted.
Some of the specific traits of BPD are an intense fear of abandonment, paranoid and highly suspicious natures, “flipping” a conversation and deflecting making a partner or spouse feel as though they actually are the one with a problem, an inability to actually offer a sincere apology without projecting fault (i.e. “I’m sorry you got so mad!”), and setting up situations where conversations can be almost impossible to carry on due to the way a person with BPD will set themselves up to be rejected, thus proving their greatest fears. When alcohol is introduced into these situations, it is highly likely to be used in excess because the person with the disorder is so unable to regulate themselves they “overuse” and will often have no memory of the confrontations.
Borderline Personality Disorder as a Co-Occurring Disorder
While BPD can trigger someone to abuse alcohol, the opposite is also true. Because of the range of symptoms individuals with BPD can express, there is much confusion when it comes to diagnosis. These symptoms vary so greatly that it is common for there to be overlap with other disorders. This is why people who have chronically abused alcohol over a long period of time can develop similar symptoms to BPD. This makes it difficult for people with an alcohol use disorder, or AUD, to recover, as their mental state fights against sobriety and makes them feel like they need alcohol.
The overlap of symptoms between people with BPD who have turned to alcohol addiction, and, conversely, people who have an alcohol addiction that have developed symptoms of BPD, makes it harder to be recognized as a legitimate disorder. This feeds negative connotations of people suffering from BPD and creates a perception that they have the disorder because they are alcoholics. In reality, BPD is one of the least understood common disorders we have in society, and the factors that influence it can vary greatly from person to person.
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Treatment for Alcohol and Borderline Personality Disorder
In the case of any SUD and co-occurring disorder, it is best to treat them together. Ignoring one or the other can mean missing a key part as to why the person turned to addiction. If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from an AUD caused by BPD, or vice versa, then the path to sobriety may be more difficult than you realized. Finding the right help can be invaluable in your journey, but often times you won’t know where to look. If you need help finding treatment, then please reach out to one of our dedicated treatment specialists. They are waiting for your call.
- Author — Last Edited: May 16, 2019
Carpenter, RW; Wood, PK; Trull, TJ. (2016). Comorbidity of Borderline Personality Disorder and Lifetime Substance Use Disorders in a Nationally Representative Sample. Retrieved March 28th 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25893556
Fertuck, Eric A. Ph.D. (2009). Borderline “Empathy” Revisited. Retrieved March 28th 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-the-border/200907/borderline-empathy-revisited
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Borderline Personality Disorder. Retrieved March 28th 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml
Sack, David M.D. (2012). The Challenges of Treating Addicts with Borderline Personality Disorder. Retrieved March 28th 2018 from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2012/02/challenges-addicts-borderline-personality-disorder/
Troncale Joseph M.D. (2014). Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction. Retrieved March 28th 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-addiction-meets-your-brain/201408/borderline-personality-disorder-and-addiction