Borderline Personality Disorder and Substance Abuse

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Mental illness is currently one of the most discussed topics in the country. For decades, however, talking about mental illness in a public forum was frowned upon. Those who had mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were shunned rather than supported. And while the stigma surrounding mental illness still exists today, more people than ever before are facing the reality that having a mental illness does not mean that something is “wrong” with you. Now, more people are experiencing co-occurring disorders, including borderline personality disorder and substance abuse.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), approximately one in five U.S. adults has a mental illness. This number does not even reflect what is estimated to be a much larger number, as it does not account for those who are quietly struggling with the symptoms of their mental illness. As just mentioned, there is still a deep fear that many people with mental illness have where they are judged or treated differently by those around them because of what they are experiencing. But, truth be told, mental illness is not something that anyone “chooses” for themselves. All mental illnesses can be traced back to biological, genetic, and/or environmental causes. 

Mental illness on its own can be extremely difficult to manage, even with the best of coping skills and professional help. But when a person is dealing with both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem, the situation can get much worse and quickly. Those who have borderline personality disorder and also grapple with substance abuse can often times feel like they are doing nothing but treading water.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a serious mental illness that is characterized by unstable, unpredictable moods. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 1.4% of the U.S. population has borderline personality disorder, with more than half of those individuals being women. 

There are nine primary symptoms of borderline personality disorder, and they are as follows:

  1. Fear of abandonment
  2. Unstable relationships
  3. Unclear/shifting self-image
  4. Impulsive/self-destructive behavior 
  5. Self-harm
  6. Extreme emotional swings
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Explosive anger
  9. Feeling out of touch with reality 

The development of borderline personality disorder is most often traced back to one’s genetic make-up and/or trauma they experienced in childhood. Attempting to live with this specific mental illness without obtaining professional treatment for it can be exhausting and overwhelming and chip away at one’s resolve. That is one of the many reasons why is it not uncommon to see someone with borderline personality disorder also struggling with substance abuse. 

Borderline Personality Disorder and Substance Abuse 

Many people who have a mental illness find themselves abusing drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the stressors related to that illness. Those who have borderline personality disorder are no different. Unfortunately, when this mental illness and this disease combine with one another, all related symptoms tend to become much worse. So, not only is a person seeing an uptick in intensity with their borderline personality disorder symptoms, but they are likely also seeing an increase in the negative side effects related to their substance abuse. Individuals facing this co-occurring condition can often feel like they are on a rollercoaster ride that has no intention of ever stopping. 

Some of the primary reasons why many of those with borderline personality disorder begin abusing drugs and alcohol include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Manage symptoms — As mentioned before, the symptoms related to borderline personality disorder can be extremely difficult to live with. It is common for those with this mental illness to regularly feel paranoid, fearful of abandonment, and emotionally unstable. When the symptoms do not seem to subside, drinking or doing drugs to help calm them can seem like an easy way to solve the problem, but unfortunately, it only makes the situation worse. 
  • Please others — Trying to maintain healthy relationships with people when experiencing borderline personality disorder can be near impossible for some. It can be hard to make friends and strengthen bonds with family when a person is constantly in a mood swing or paranoid about something. So, to help relax their state, they might start abusing drugs or alcohol in an effort to mask their disorder and please those around them. 
  • Self-medicate trauma — Many people with borderline personality disorder have a history of trauma either in their childhood or at some other point in their younger lives. If that trauma is not addressed, it can continue to be the fuel to an everlasting fire. Even if borderline personality disorder symptoms were under control, if the trauma that relates to the disorder is not addressed, substance abuse can occur in an effort to provide some level of self-medication.

Borderline personality disorder is a painful disorder to have. Thankfully, it is treatable. With the appropriate professional care, those with this disorder can learn how to cope with symptoms so that their symptoms do not dictate their lives. 

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder and Substance Abuse 

In the event that a person is having difficulty with untreated borderline personality disorder and a substance abuse problem, an integrated approach to treatment can be the key. 

Those with co-occurring conditions like this benefit most when both their mental illness and their substance abuse problem are simultaneously addressed. This means that while a person is ending their physical use of drugs or alcohol, they are also beginning to work on the mental and emotional aspects of their condition. When done in an inpatient or outpatient treatment center, those providing treatment for borderline personality disorder and substance abuse can work together to develop and administer a treatment plan that addresses both issues.

Addiction Treatment in California

If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol and are also struggling with a mental illness like borderline personality disorder, reach out to us right now. We can help you get on the road to recovery so that you do not need to continue living a life that is unsustainable. 

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