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Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way an individual thinks or feels about themselves and others. The drastic instability impacts a person’s ability to function normally through everyday life.

When an individual is struggling with a borderline personality disorder, they will experience constant changes in mood, personality, thinking, behaviors, and even their personal identity. In turn, this causes unstable relationships with those around them. Relationships are difficult for people with a borderline personality disorder because they have an intense fear of abandonment but may display frequent mood swings that push others away. Despite their desire to establish a healthy, lasting relationship, borderline personality disorder often prevents individuals from doing so.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) affects how an individual feels about themselves and relates to others, in turn affecting their behavior. Although BPD may display different symptoms for different individuals, there are some common signs and symptoms. These may include:

    • Intense fear of abandonment. People with BPD are significantly afraid of being abandoned or left alone by their loved one. The fear is so intense that it can trigger from a small situation such as a loved one being home late from work or going on a weekend trip.
  • Extreme mood swings. Unstable emotions and moods are a common characteristic of BPD. Moods can change rapidly from calm to helpless. Small events that people would normally pay little attention to may send someone with BPD into an emotional tailspin. While the mood swings can be intense, they tend not to last as long as mood swings from bipolar disorder, lasting from a few minutes to hours.
  • Shifting self-identity. BPD causes rapid changes in self-image and self-identity. Sometimes, a person can feel secure about themselves and the next they may not even know who they are. This causes a shift in goals and values and as a result, frequently changing friends, jobs, religions, values, and goals.
  • A chronic feeling of emptiness. A person with BPD may experience an ongoing feeling of emptiness, like a void within. With the loss of self-identity, they may feel as if they are “nothing” or “nobody”. The feeling of emptiness is sometimes filled with unhealthy behaviors such as drugs, food, or sex. Even so, it is difficult for them to find true peace with a chronic feeling of emptiness.
  • Impulsive self-destructive behavior. Individuals with BPD may engage in impulsive, risky, and sometimes even dangerous behaviors in an effort to feel something, especially when they are upset. Examples of these behaviors include reckless driving, excessive gambling, binge eating or drinking, drug abuse, and quitting a stable job.
  • Explosive anger. People with BPD may experience explosive anger and a short temper. They often have trouble controlling their anger once it hits, displaying behavior such as yelling, throwing objects, or being completely overcome by rage. Sometimes, this anger is directed inwards towards themselves.
  • Paranoia or feeling out of touch with reality. BPD can cause a person to go through periods of paranoia or loss of touch with reality related to stress. Losing touch with reality is commonly referred to as dissociation. They may become suspicious of people’s motives, even those close to them. Stress from BPD could lead a person to feel spaced out and foggy.
  • Self-harm. The unbalanced emotions of someone with BPD increase the chances that the individual will engage in suicidal or self-harm behavior. This is usually in response to a fear of separation or rejection from a loved one.
  • Unstable relationships. One of the most defining characteristics of BPD is a pattern of unstable relationships. Changing moods often result in a shift in how the person with BPD views their significant other. One moment they may be completely dedicated to the person and the next moment they believe that the person doesn’t care enough. Relationships are usually intense and short-lived due to rapid swings of idealization to devaluation.

Borderline Personality Disorder Causes

Although the causes of BPD cannot be pinpointed to a single factor, there are certain factors that combine to contribute to the development of BPD. This includes:

  • Genetics. Research shows that individuals who have a immediate relative with BPD are about five times more likely to develop BPD themselves. 
  • Environmental factors. Factors such as a dysfunctional family environment or a traumatic experience are at an increased risk of suffering from BPD.
  • Brain chemistry. BPD may be linked to certain neurological functions such as an imbalance in neurotransmitters, which are natural chemicals in the brain that affect the way we feel and behave.

Borderline Personality and Addiction

Borderline personality disorder and addiction are common co-occurring disorders. Research states that nearly 75 percent of individuals with borderline personality disorder have a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives. The complicated nature of both borderline personality disorder and addiction can make it difficult to properly diagnose as a co-occurring disorder. Both disorders present similar symptoms that can make treatment challenging. Some of the similarities between BPD and addiction include:

  • Impulsive, destructive disorders
  • Manipulative and dishonest actions
  • Mood swings that range from severe downs to manic energy
  • Patterns of instability in careers, relationships, and finances
  • Lack of concern for one’s own health and safety
  • Disregard of negative consequences

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

While substance abuse disorder cannot directly cause BPD, it can exacerbate the disorder’s symptoms and hasten its progression. While some substances can temporarily relieve symptoms of BPD such as anxiety, it will only make the disorder worse in the long-run. For an individual struggling with BPD and addiction, a co-occurring disorder treatment plan is necessary in order to achieve long-term recovery.

A co-occurring disorder treatment plan will take into account the individuals physical, mental, and spiritual state when addressing their addiction. Along with a medically supervised detox to rid the body of harmful substances, different therapy methods are utilized to treat underlying mental health conditions. To learn more about taking a co-occurring disorder approach to treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction, contact us today.