Borderline Personality Disorder & Substance Abuse

Borderline Personality Disorder is a very serious mental health condition that affects a person’s behavior. It leads to common mood swings and a distorted self-image. It often happens that people who have Borderline Personality Disorder also resort to substance abuse. This mostly happens because they are not able to handle their mood changes. In this scenario, it is crucial to treat both issues simultaneously. If not treated on time, these issues may lead to severe consequences. With that in mind, it is essential to raise awareness in your community and help those in need. Here is everything you need to know about Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

BPD is categorized as an illness that prevents people from forming interpersonal relationships due to distorted views of reality and self-image, and common mood swings. People that suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder are almost always very impulsive and rash in their decisions. Their inner thoughts are often distorted, which may lead to exhibiting destructive behaviors. That will not only affect their lives, but also the lives of their loved ones.

BPD often develops in early adulthood. When that happens, it will affect that person’s development as well. The individual will start to feel uncertain about their goals, and what their purpose in life is. Furthermore, they will also feel insecure about their actions. Their interests may change very quickly, and so can their thoughts. For example, a person with BPD might look at someone as a friend, but tomorrow they might change their mind and consider them an enemy.

Silhouettes of a person and a child filled with words that describe BPD.
People often struggle with emotions that build up inside. If they don’t learn how to control them, that may result in serious mental health issues.

Because of that, individuals who suffer from BPD will not be able to form strong and healthy relationships. They will struggle to trust people around them, which may also lead to the fear of abandonment. When that happens, they will often start quick, intimate relationships, but end them very soon because of the lack of trust.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

It might easily happen that someone close to you suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. However, if you are not aware of this illness, and how it manifests, you might miss the signs. To prevent that, here are some of the most common symptoms of BPD:

  • Common mood swings followed by intense emotions
  • A person might only see things in extremes. Things could either be all good or all bad; there is no middle ground
  • They might be prone to impulsive actions or dangerous activities. Common examples include practicing unsafe sex, spending sprees, reckless driving, overeating, or substance abuse
  • Some people who suffer from BPD may even hurt themselves or even have thoughts about suicide
  • They feel empty and emotionless
  • Individuals may show uncontrollable and inappropriate fits of anger
  • They could often be dissociated from other people and feel skeptical of their intentions

Out of all these symptoms, the most common one is substance abuse. We will discuss this illness a bit later, but let’s first discuss what causes BPD.

History of mental illness

Genetics play a significant role in causing Borderline Personality disorder. If an individual has someone in their family who suffer from BPD, there is a chance they will also have this condition. This is especially true if they have a direct family member with this mental illness.

A past trauma

Past experiences might affect people’s mental condition. Those exposed to sexual or physical abuse, childhood adversity, abandonment, or emotional abuse might develop Borderline Personality Disorder. These traumatic life events may cause a change in how people think, especially if they did not have someone to rely on.

An illustration of an angry person.
People often deal with difficult emotions and past traumas by exhibiting fits of anger.

Changes in brain chemistry

All mental illnesses come from the brain. According to some studies, people who suffer from BPD had changes in brain chemistry, particularly in areas that regulate emotions and control impulses. However, we still do not know if these changes in brain chemistry happen because of BPD or cause it.

Environmental factors

Those forced to grow up in a challenging environment often have different views of reality. That can happen due to poor communication or growing up in a hostile and unhealthy environment. As a result, they might suffer from BPD.

Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse

According to dual diagnosis treatment centers in Pennsylvania, people who suffer from BPD often resort to substance abuse. That can start with mild drugs like smoking marijuana or drinking. However, the situation may escalate at some point, and someone with BPD might move onto more dangerous drugs like taking medication, heroin, cocaine, and so on.

This usually happens because substance abuse offers temporary relief. However, it will never solve the problem; it might even make things worse. The person suffers from two different illnesses, and their physical and mental health may quickly deteriorate. That is why it is essential to treat both diseases simultaneously.

How does substance abuse start?

If you know someone who suffers from BPD, try to pay attention to their behavior. Try to notice little signs that they might hint at substance abuse.

Substance abuse usually starts gradually. An individual starts with something that is most accessible to them. In most cases, that could be smoking or drinking. As we mentioned, the person is trying to find some much-needed relief. However, because substance abuse does not treat BPD, substance abuse might only make things worse.

Once the person realizes that the relief they get from smoking or drinking does not last long, they might attempt to use more dangerous drugs. That is why it is very important to intervene as soon as possible.

Sings of substance abuse often include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • An individual becomes quickly irritated by small things
  • Poor performance in personal and professional activities
  • Increased financial problems
  • Losing weight at a fast pace
  • Dilated pupils or “glassy” eyes
  • Skin infections or bruises

Be mindful of these signs, and try to help people around you if you notice they are struggling with something. Let us see how to approach treating Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse, and what the best substance abuse treatment programs are.

Timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial

When it comes to mental illnesses, a wrong diagnosis can really make things worse. For example, ADHD and bipolar disorder share a lot of symptoms with Borderline Personality Disorder. It is important to accurately diagnose people with BPD because they might resist the treatment. This happens because of their mood swings and the inability to trust people around them. The treatment becomes even more difficult if they also use drugs.

A drunk person sleeping at the table hugging a bottle.
The most common substance abuse is alcohol abuse.

Communication must be on the level

When a person suffers from BPD and substance abuse, there must be a high level of communication between their therapist and their doctor. We already mentioned how BPD patients might refuse treatment due to their thinking; that is why there needs to be a level of cooperation between the doctor and the therapist to properly treat the patient simultaneously.

How to treat Borderline Personality Disorder

The majority of mental illnesses are treated with drugs. While BPD can also be treated this way, another method showed a substantial percentage of success. This is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This method is specifically created for treating patients with BPD. Let’s learn more about this treatment, and see why it has so much success with treating Borderline Personality Disorder.

An illustration of a therapist speaking with a patient.
When dealing with BPD and substance abuse, it is necessary to seek professional help.

What is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is a method of treating Borderline Personality Disorder through talking. People who suffer from BPD struggle with understanding and accepting their feelings. While medication can moderate the severity of the illness, nothing can be as impactful on a person as understanding what is happening to them and how to accept it.

DBT aims to help people to:

  • Understand and accept their feelings
  • Learn how to manage mood swings and control their feelings
  • Make positive changes in their lives

Emotional regulation is crucial for this treatment. It all starts from there. Once people learn how to deal with impulses and reactionary emotions, they can make a positive change for the better. They will become mindful of what is happening to them now, and learn to accept their thoughts and emotions without feeling any judgment.

Syringe and drugs.
Even light substance abuse may quickly escalate to more dangerous drugs if not treated in time.

This change will lead to distress tolerance. They will learn techniques that will help them to distract themselves when necessary and shift their thoughts elsewhere until they calm themselves. That is the best way to deal with difficult emotions.

The final stage of this treatment will allow patients to understand others as well, and finally create meaningful relationships in their lives. The entire idea of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is to help people manage their feelings and to connect with others.

How does substance abuse affect BPD treatment?

When Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse mix together, it becomes much more difficult to treat a person. This is mainly because both of the issues have different roots. Addiction is one of the hardest things to get rid of, especially if it is backed up by strong emotions and an inability to control them.

The root of substance abuse usually is BPD. To help the person stop using drugs, it is necessary to treat BPD. However, substance abuse often may worsen an individual’s condition, and it becomes a necessity that goes beyond Borderline Personality Disorder. A person may start to show progress in controlling their emotions and mood swings, but their body will still crave the drug. That is when fear of going a step back in the treatment shows. What if they stop using drugs, and their BPD symptoms come back? Music therapy for substance abuse has shown great progress in helping people manage their emotions during this stage of treatment.

This is a classic example of why it is necessary to address both issues simultaneously and with great care. The patient must understand that substance abuse only hinders their progress in treating BPD. They need to undergo strict drug withdrawal treatment and at the same time speak with their therapist about managing their cravings and understanding how to control emotions without the drugs.

How to help someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse?

If you know someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse, it is crucial to be mindful of their condition. You need to be there as a friend and helping hand. They might need someone to talk to, and you need to show understanding. However, the most important part is to try to make them seek professional help. They need to start DBT for substance abuse as soon as possible, because the longer they wait, the worse their symptoms might become.

Map of the world made out of pills.
More than 285 million people from all around the globe have substance abuse issues.

Help them make that important and most of all, challenging decision. If needed, organize an intervention with the help of their friends and family. Remember that they might resist the treatment, as we mentioned before. Nevertheless, it is important not to give up on them. Since they cannot control their emotions, they might not even seek help.

What are the best centers for BPD and substance abuse treatment?

Many drug and alcohol treatment centers in Pennsylvania also offer support for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Call their hotline to help a friend in need and ask all the questions you can think of. It is crucial to understand how these centers work, and what the best approach to have someone admitted is. They will offer consultations regarding interventions, immediate medical assistance, and a full withdrawal program. This is the best way to help someone treat their addiction, and gain control over their emotions.

Raise awareness about BPD and substance abuse issues

According to the National Institutes of Health, over 20% of mental patients have Borderline Personality Disorder. On top of that, there are around 1.6% of undiagnosed people.

The best way to help those suffering from these issues is to raise awareness about Borderline Personality Disorder & substance abuse, help them understand what they are going through, and show them how to improve. It is important to work in unity because those who need help often cannot help themselves.

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