Substance Abuse and Personality Disorders

What are Personality Disorders?

In general, personality disorders are mental illnesses in which an individual’s behavior, emotions and thoughts differ drastically from social and cultural norms. This can cause serious problems within that person’s life, both personally and professionally. There are a wide number of known personality disorders currently recognized by medical experts around the world through the DSM-IV Axis II system. These are categorized into the following groups:

* Antisocial personality disorder: Manipulating, exploiting or violating other’s rights
* Avoidant personality disorder: Excessive shyness, inadequacy and fear of rejection
* Borderline personality disorder: Unstable and turbulent emotions, actions and relationships
* Dependent personality disorder: Excessive dependence on other people
* Histrionic personality disorder: Acting emotional or dramatic to draw attention
* Narcissistic personality disorder: Inflated ego and an obsession with the self
* Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: A preoccupation with rules, orderliness and control
* Paranoid personality disorder: Unfounded distrust and suspicion of others
* Schizoid personality disorder: Feelings of social isolation and indifference to people
* Schizotypal personality disorder: Difficulty with relationships and irregular lifestyle patterns

As these groups are so diverse, those suffering from personality disorders can exhibit a wide range of symptoms at varying degrees of psychiatric severity. Some individuals will only experience minor difficulties while others will find that their lives are drastically affected by these afflictions.

The Statistics of Substance Abuse and Personality Disorders

Numerous studies have been carried out to determine the link between those who abuse drugs and alcohol and those who have personality disorders. The majority of data collected points towards a direct correlation between the two. Depending on the people studied, there is a 50% to 75% chance that a drug or alcohol addict will also suffer from one or more personality disorders. Most of the traits associated with these afflictions can be spotted while an individual is an adolescent. However it may be difficult to differentiate between typical adolescent behavior and the common mental symptoms linked to these disorders.

Some specific personality disorders have been shown to result in an increased risk of drug use. One study looked at alcohol dependent patients and found that 20.8% were obsessive compulsive, 10.4% were paranoid and 9.4% were dependent.

When it came to those abusing both cocaine and alcohol, 21% were antisocial, 14.5% were narcissistic and 11.3% were borderline. Other studies have found similar results among those taking other drugs, such as marijuana or opiates.

As for which comes first, this depends on the individual involved. In some cases, an addict will self-medicate when suffering from a personality disorder in an attempt to reduce the symptoms or stabilize their emotional state. Likewise, excessive drug use can alter brain chemistry so much that this can trigger the onset of a personality disorder. In both cases, it will be necessary to treat both the substance use and the mental affliction to properly put the patient on the road to recovery.

Trends among Adolescents

While the majority of studies have been conducted on adults, a few have looked at how substance abuse and personality disorders are connected in adolescents. The statistics here vary, in part due to factors such as rebelliousness, impulsiveness and academic stress which are commonly linked to the teenage years and can contribute to a higher likelihood of substance abuse. Conduct disorder (the precursor to antisocial personality disorder) has been shown to result in a higher risk of substance abuse in adolescents.

One study showed that personality disorders were more likely to cause alcohol use in adolescents rather than the other way around. 92% of all those who had been diagnosed with personality disorders had consumed alcohol in the year prior to the study, while 38% of those who consumed alcohol had personality disorders. There was also strong evidence to suggest that suffering from borderline or antisocial personality disorders means that there is a higher risk of alcohol use.

An interesting result to emerge was that there was no significant difference between those with personality disorders and those without when it came to illicit substance abuse. With these discrepancies, it is obvious that more research needs to be conducted in this field in order to properly determine the facts when it comes to substance use and mental wellbeing among both adolescents and adults.

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