borderline personality disorder and addiction

Recovering from a mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder and addiction (BPD) is challenging.  Often individuals with mental illnesses feel isolated, alone and rejected by family and friends.  However, family members, friends and other caring individuals can be a tremendous resource in the recovery process.  Some of these supportive people are trained mental health professionals.  The vast majority, however, are untrained individuals such as spouses, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, parents or the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsors.  Many of these people want to help their loved one but feel ill equipped to deal with the multitude of challenges their loved one faces.

Personalities are just like masks that we needed in childhood but that no longer serve us now. Sooner or later it gets icky in there and they have to be removed. You just have to be willing to be authentically exposed over time!

Mark L Lockwood BA (hons)(psy)

Similarly, many individuals who are recovering from drug addiction and a co-occurring disorder are also looking for answers to questions about their disorder.  Educating oneself about the disorder is an essential step in recovery.


All of us have a personality and character.  We all have our unique likes and dislikes, tastes and preferences and ways we deal with others.  You may prefer Chinese food over American food, like a sports car better than an SUV or love basketball and dislike football.  Friends or family members may share some of your unique tastes, but likely not all of them.  Our uniqueness and individuality is related to how we do things.  To a large extent, this defines who we are.

A personality is our own unique set of behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and feelings we bring to situations and people consistently over time.  Our personality defines us to such a large extent that friends and family members are able to identify and describe is based on our personality.  While we may not always be ‘true to ourselves’ and sometimes act in ways that are ‘not like us at all’, we are for the most part consistent and predictable over time.

Personality characteristics displayed over a long period of time are called traits (being compulsive, honest or reliable, for example).  As mentioned, however, sometimes we act out of character, causing us to feel as if we are ‘not ourselves’ and not connected to our ‘inner core’.  These briefly displayed characteristics are referred to as states (being depressed, anxious, upset or happy, for example).


Many people with BPD and addiction ask themselves “Why me?”  You may have a sibling, parent or other relative who also has a serious mental illness or an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and you probably have many relatives who have not been afflicted with a mental illness or addiction.

BPD and addiction have been linked to learned behaviour, psychological factors, exposure to chronic extremes stressors and a genetic vulnerability.  This is underscored by the fact that a vast majority of individuals with BPD (about 60 to 80 percent) report a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.  IT has even been suggested that BPD is an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It should be pointed out, however, that abuse in and of itself does not cause BPD.  Rather, it triggers vulnerable individuals’ potential to develop the disorder. 

We have found that individuals with BPD consistently make the following three thinking errors:  the conviction of basic badness, mistaking a want for a need and the inability to make compromises.  

The Conviction of Basic Badness

Feeling that you are fundamentally flawed, bad and inferior may be familiar to you.  Often you may think:  “If you really get to know me, you won’t like me and will reject me.”  Using alcohol and other substances may have given you brief and temporary relief from these negative feelings, but the intense and deep sense of self-loathing returns once you are sober.  Thus, individuals who have BPD and a chemical dependency find themselves in an eternal vicious circle: trying to cover up the bad feelings by using substances, but then having the sense of ‘basic badness’ re-affirmed by the substance use and other self-defeating behaviours.

You may find yourself in this cycle believing that “I am not worth anything and don’t deserve to be in a relationship with a decent person” and using a substance to temporarily escape this inner sense of emptiness, worthlessness, hopelessness and powerlessness.  Based on your personal experience and environment, you started thinking about yourself in negative terms and internalised this belief over time.  If so, stop and imagine yourself as a newborn baby.  You were not born with a negative sense of self.  Nobody is.  Logically, you know that nobody is born feeling bad about themselves.  


If you suffer from the conviction of basic badness, you may identify with some of the following statements:

 Nobody really cares about me.

 I am not a worthwhile person.

 If you really get to know me, you will reject me.

 Deep down inside, I am fundamentally flawed.

 I only feel good when I am around other people.

 I deserve to be punished.

 I don’t deserve anything positive (friends or success, for example).

 If I am myself, everybody leaves.

 I can’t stand losing a relationship.

 Everything positive is coming from others.

borderline personality disorder and addiction


What we have discovered about working with people with borderline disorder is that firstly, it is relatively easy to spot to a professional. Regardless of what some may say, it cam take a minute or two to start seeing a set of traits emerge in a person. This is good. It means that if it’s easy to spot for professionals, the right treatment will be sought out first time around. You need to know that patients with Borderline Personality Disorder are generally considered as extremely difficult to treat around the world. Therapists often feel powerless with trying to lead a horse to water and make it drink. Others tend to drop their own empathy to match that of the client. With tendency is difficult to deal with and both don’t work too well.  Then the first issue with treating borderline is to get people to stop and look at their behaviour long enough to recognise and become aware of how they think feel and act. The borderline personality is generally the last to know of their own symptoms and equally slow to act on amending them when they do know. Repeatedly stopping someone with BPD and getting them to be mindful of what they are doing is the first port of call. It takes a huge amount of patience and care from the therapists.

You will not get people with BPD treatment to start treatment easily – so get them to stop! If you can get someone with BPD traits to STOP hearing the sounds of their own thoughts and voice, then you have won half the battle towards treating them. Stop the fruitless behaviour chains as early as possible into the cycle and switch that mindfully around to what behaviours work, and you’re getting there fast.

Mark L Lockwood BA(hons)(psy)

Lastly you should know that once there is a general awareness of the symptoms and if the person really wants to change, that too is relatively easy. BPD is about 68% more treatable than severe depression. If a person is open to being able to see their negative personality traits they will heal ten times faster. Borderlines tend to have inappropriate anger, they blame others a lot, suffer severe impulsiveness and frequent mood swings. They are blissfully unaware of their rudeness, contempt, anger, tantrums, benevolence and often childish behaviours. Even though their behaviours are self destructive a borderline will keep doing things that don’t work. Over and over again and this is an addiction in itself. It is an addiction to familiar thinking and familiar outcomes that have become entrenched and pathological.

Nevertheless all these are big words and big concepts that can be ironed out with some determined work. DBT is one of our most effective courses we do at our Wellness Centre Cape Town to do that personality ironing. Once you create an awareness of what you think and do that doesn’t work for you, you can change that. When you do you can enhance all your relationships, your career and even the way you experience joy and peace in life. Personalities are just like masks that we needed in childhood but that no longer serve us now. Sooner or later it gets icky in there and they have to be removed. You just have to be willing to be authentically exposed over time!

For more help with treating borderline personality disorder and addiction get in touch with our Luxury Wellness Centre. We have a professional and experienced team of professionals headed up by Mark L Lockwood, who are ready to radically change lives.

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borderline personality disorder and addiction can and should be treated

Published by Mark L Lockwood

Mark L Lockwood (BA)(Hons)(psy) teaches spiritual transformation and is the founder of Contemplative Intelligence. Author of The Power of Contemplative Intelligence, Autotherapy and Recovery Magic. Our work is about the science of finding your spiritual self.


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