The Link Between Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction

borderline personality disorder and addiction

When you experience a mental health disorder along with a substance use disorder, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Often, it is difficult to tell which disorder came first but treating both together is generally recommended. 7.7 million adults experience co-occurring disorders. Just as there is typically a relationship between the mental health issues and the substance use, there is also a link between borderline personality disorder and addiction.

Borderline Personality Disorder

People with borderline personality disorder are challenged with regulating their emotions. They may experience mood swings and display uncertainty about how they see themselves and their role in the world. Their interests and values can change quickly. They also tend to see things as either all good or all bad, going to extremes on either end.

Shifting feelings in a person with borderline personality disorder can lead to unstable relationships. They may like their friend one day but then consider that person an enemy the next day. The difficulty with returning to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event can lead to stormy relationships as well as impulsiveness and a poor self-image.

As a result, it is common for someone with borderline personality disorder to also have a substance use disorder. The person may use drugs or alcohol to attempt to escape from their uncontrollable and painful emotions.

Borderline Personality Disorder Causes

Environmental and biological factors may contribute to an individual’s personality disorder. There may be inborn difficulties with regulating anxiety or moods which may also cause them to be more vulnerable to loss or more sensitive to stress than others. Research has also focused on problems a person may have had when growing up, if they suffered abuse or neglect as a child. It has been found that many people with personality disorder symptoms have also reported such a childhood history.

The Link Between Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction

While chronic and excessive use of substances such as drugs or alcohol, as well as the problems caused by that use, are potential indicators of a borderline personality disorder, it is difficult to determine whether a substance use disorder is a cause or a result of the mental health disorder. However, the experts believe that because common genetic, personality, and early environmental influences predate substance use, it seems unlikely that personality disorders are simply secondary to substance use disorder. The effect of a substance use disorder on a personality disorder makes the symptoms worse and more chronic. 

Psychologists warn that the link between borderline personality disorder and addiction can be lethal. Individuals with the mental health disorder are more likely to be impulsive and suicidal. When they are also addicted to drugs or alcohol, their ability to prevent themselves from self-harm almost completely vanishes.

Many people with mental health disorders attempt to cope or calm their symptoms with drugs or alcohol. Of the 20.3 million adults diagnosed with substance use disorders in 2018, 37.9% also had a mental illness. Among the 42.1 million adults with mental illness in 2018, 18.2% also had a substance use disorder. For those with co-occurring disorders, the substance use aggravates rather than relieves their symptoms.


The link between borderline personality disorder and addiction requires professional treatment for both conditions. Treatment options that have been found effective are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is particularly helpful in providing individuals with the skills they need to manage their emotions and decrease the conflict they may experience in their relationships.

Key areas of treatment and recovery are addressed by DBT, including:

  • Mindfulness – accepting and being present in the moment
  • Distress tolerance – managing negative emotions
  • Emotion regulation – managing and changing intense emotions
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – communication skills for self-respect and improved relationships.


At BRC Recovery, we offer proven therapies to address your borderline personality disorder and your addiction. We can help you stop the vicious cycle of drug or alcohol use and the debilitating symptoms of your mental health disorder that have become such a struggle for you. Our team of experts focuses on holistic healing so you can experience real recovery.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have devoted our efforts to creating a safe, clean environment for our clients to continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.