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Borderline Personality Disorder and Addiction

borderline personality disorder

Allies member speranza asks:

"Does anyone have experience with an adult child with borderline personality?"

Being in a relationship with someone who struggles with addiction AND has borderline personality disorder (BPD) is exceptionally challenging. People with addiction are happy to push responsibility for themselves onto you. With BPD, they do this with even more gusto. It’s very hard to navigate and very troubling for those who love them.

We are not experts on BPD. I did just hear an excellent talk about BPD by a psychologist who works in jails. Folks with BPD are the very difficult in that setting as well.

One main takeaway is to find/cultivate empathy for the person. They cannot help what they do. It is hardwired into their personality from a very early age. Treatment is possible, but resistance to getting help is high.

I spoke to the psychologist after her talk and asked about families with someone that has both addiction and BPD. She suggested two books, one for you and one for your child.

For you: I Hate You Don’t Leave Me by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. He also has a book about communicating with someone with BPD.

For your child: Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is the gold standard for BPD. It’s a set of skills that help teach emotional regulation and coping skills for extreme emotions. See our page in the Resource Supplement for more on DBT.

The principles laid out in our learning modules can be applied to the BPD behaviors. Learning Module 8 can help you find a way to get the book in front of your child, at the very least. You will also want to search for DBT treatment in your area. When it’s done well, it includes individual therapy, group therapy, and a therapist on call 24/7.

Do others on this site have any experience they would be willing to share?



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I was reading the book ” loving someone with borderline personality “. It is so like my daughter. validating is so important. try to understand how they as re feeling. also boundaries are so important especially when the conversations are gettin nasty or angry. never you statements, I try and use I statements. Trust is so important. sometimes feel abandoned.

  2. My daughter, age 26, has all the BPD markers. She is diagnosed with anxiety and depression, possible bipolar disorder. To manage her intense emotions over the years, she has turned to binge drinking, abuse of medical marijuana, dabbing, and choosing terribly dysfuntional relationships. She recently was evicted for having a sexual offender stay at her place and has now moved home. The boyfriend lived in her car until he was sent back to jail. I kept my mouth shut throughout, not wanting to deal with the drama of any confrontation and allowing natural consequences. That was before I discovered CRAFT.
    Fast forward a few months…. The good news is after very dark weeks of feeling suicidal, she has asked for help and is on medication for the first time in a decade AND she is talking to me. I have been able to move closer. With medication, the improvement in mood is just amazing, but marijuana is still big and she now is out of control, online shopping with credit cards. She has been unable to go to work, but continues the shopping. I am using CRAFT in talking to her and making progress. But some days I feel so utterly helpless and hopeless as she swings from thing to thing. I am so grateful there is now an opening of her listening and talking about her problems but I honestly don’t know what to suggest to her. Residential treatment for dual diagnosis? Outpatient? Go nearby, go far from home? Addiction therapist AND a psychiatrist? My fear is that an addiction treatment center will not address the deep mental illness she deals with. Her doctor is now involved. She trusts him.
    One of the phrases from CRAFT that has stuck with me is that recovery is a process, not an event. I am tired, but imagine how she feels…

  3. Hello- my 23 yo son has been exhibiting BPD traits since he was a toddler. His emotions
    have always been intense- whether positive or negative. When things are going well- he is
    animated, fun- loving & affectionate.
    When things – big, or small, are not going well- he is angry, abusive & difficult
    to reason with. His mood can fluctuate from minute to minute- little things
    like the weather or the way someone talks to him can set him off. It is difficult
    for him to maintain relationships since, at times he loves the people he works with
    and family /friends and at times he thinks of them as the worst possible people.
    The low tolerance for life’s distresses are difficult to handle.

  4. I have a younger sister with BPD (she has never been diagnosed – just my opinion).
    She is estranged from everyone in the family, including her two children.
    I have tried to engage her in conversation from time to time but end up just listening to her rant about how horrible everyone is and has been to her; parents, siblings, ex-husband, etc.
    She has never been able to work…now 45 years old, but somehow has managed to survive with little family support.
    I do not know if she is currently a SUD as I have not seen her in several years. I feel sad for her and her kids, now 21 and 25 as they have never had a real mother, just me, a caring aunt.
    We’ve all kind of given up on her as she can be violent and abusive.

    1. Hi,
      You exactly discribed my daughter, now 34. I have custody of her 14-year-old daughter and my grandson who is just three and five.
      She also was self medicating with alcohol, aderal and eventually meth. She put herself in a program in house. She’s still exhibit underlining behavior of BPD after 6 months of rehab.

      She has estranged herself from her three siblings and myself as we are absolutely the worst people among many other adjectives she uses to describe all of us. We are by nature and an action a very close family so this is particularly absurd to all of us and very painful. When she is on her A game she is charming and engaging. We haven’t seen that side in two years and it’s just getting worse. I am always on the fence of reaching out or staying clear away. When I do try to reach out and help her it somehow gets twisted into some diabolical plan to hurt her. My heart goes out to you, as I’m in search of ideas and support.

      1. Hi Kelly.

        Thank you for sharing your comment. As stated above, it seems you are seeking ideas and support with your situation. Have you tried writing in to our “Pose a Question” blog? To follow, you’ll find a brief explanation of our Pose a Question feature and the link to the page on our member site:

        If you have a question about something you’ve read or seen on this site, here’s your opportunity to ask! Perhaps it’s a question about something you experienced, read or heard elsewhere. That’s fine, too.

        You should have made a solid start with the Learning Modules before seeking guidance.

        Our moderators may edit your comment for spelling or punctuation. You can usually expect a response from our team in a minimum of 5-7 business days from the time of your submission. Your comment will also appear as a Q & A style blog post on our member only Discussion Blog.


        Please do take advantage of this signature feature on our member site. In turn, you’ll receive a tailored response from our CRAFT experts full of helpful guidance pertaining to your situation. Wishing you all the best, Kelly.

        With encouragement,
        Allies in Recovery Support

    2. Hi Kelly,

      I think all of the Allies community can relate to how difficult it is to deal with the incredibly negative accusations and blame-darts directed at us by Loved Ones (LO) with substance use disorder (SUD). Having borderline personality disorder and other mental illnesses adds another layer of negativity.

      For all the difficulties expressed in your post, there’s also some really good news that you wrote about in your comment:

      You have stepped up in a big way as Grandma. It has to be incredibly difficult to take on the raising of your grandchildren. It is wonderful to see that they have you in their lives to care for them. Really, very selfless and giving.

      Your daughter entered into some form of treatment on her own. Wow! This is a big deal. When it’s the individual’s idea, they are more likely to be committed to the process of recovery. This doesn’t mean they won’t struggle or have setbacks, but it’s a step they get to own. Kudos to your daughter.

      You and your grandchildren have the support and connection to your immediate and extended family. As you relate, you’re very close as a family, and that is such a wonderful strength to draw from.

      Your daughter has had moments when she exhibits positive (charming) behavior. This is something to build on. Try to use those moments to strengthen connection with her. Reinforce all positive behavior you would like to see repeat.

      You are searching for ideas and support! I know that this journey has had to be very difficult, but you are still here trying to find ways to make it better for you, your daughter, and your grandchildren.

      One thing I am not sure of from your comment is whether or not your daughter has been diagnosed with BDP by a psychiatrist or if she is just exhibiting behaviors associated with BPD. If she does have BPD, there may be added strategies and support options for handling situations with her and the psychiatrist should be consulted. Either way, learning CRAFT skills is a way to build and improve on your relationship, even just a little bit.

      Our own feelings are a great place to start

      Your word choices in this comment (diabolical, very painful, absolutely the worst) convey a deep sense of pain and difficult feelings. What about starting there? Module 7 (How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Feelings Get in the Way?) is all about such situations.

      Taking a break from your LO and caring for yourself is so important. It’s also important to take whatever amount of time you need before being in contact again. While you’re working on self-compassion and coping with difficult feelings, you could also dive into Module 4 (How Do I Talk to My Loved One?) and start practicing positive communication skills.

      Less “awfulizing” can make room for understanding

      The very first video in Module 4 discusses the goal of no negative talk. Learning to reduce the negative talk to an absolute minimum combines well with introducing realistic thoughts (discussed in Module 7). Together, these skills can help you stop “awfulizing”—seeing and feeling everything through the lens of how bad it is. Reducing the awfulizing, reframing everything from a more neutral viewpoint, will help lessen the sting, give you more opportunity to manage difficult feelings, and help you respond and interact with your daughter in a more helpful way.

      Try turning to an inner voice: one that challenges you to consider that your daughter’s blaming and shaming of you and the family could be a way to keep herself safe from facing her own behaviors. If it’s someone else’s fault, she doesn’t have to feel horrible about her own stuff. She gets to avoid her own difficult feelings.

      Looking at my own LO’s behavior from this new angle helped me to observe the behavior itself and not become so entangled in it. I would often think things like, “My LO is not doing this to me. They just cannot face it all right now.”

      I have to be honest though: I was often still left with own hurt and battered emotions. I was not good at protecting myself from the harsh words. It took a while to understand that if I could calm myself, I could manage my feelings better and learn to respond rather than react. Which brings me to boundaries.

      Boundaries are a must

      We often hear about boundaries when talking about SUD; the word gets flung around like water from a sprinkler. Boundaries are complicated. They are not easy to implement or manage. I have written quite a bit about boundaries; if you want to read more you can click here and here. Without going into all of the details, let me hit a few highlights that might be helpful:

      Boundaries are for your protection. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

      Boundaries are your responsibility to implement and to maintain (not your LO’s).

      Boundaries determine your behavior (not your LO’s).

      The CRAFT approach requires some sort of connection and communication with your LO. But how do you cope with exposing yourself to the verbal assaults, accusations, and blame? It’s a balancing act!!!! You are going back and forth about whether to break away completely or keep reaching out. I have some thoughts that might inspire you to get creative and find ways to create a bubble of protection for yourself while staying connected with your LO in a helpful way. This is where creating emotional boundaries can help.

      Any time you are engaging with your LO and start to feel those deep, painful emotions rise to the surface, think emotional boundary. They are your emotions, so they are yours to protect and manage. I don’t know about you, but in my experience with LOs, early in my journey, I would often stay and engage when the conversations got hairy and painful. I spent a lot of time trying really hard to convince my LO of my viewpoint. It usually was done in a very emotional way and did nothing but escalate the situation. Or I would try to avoid the chaos by not saying anything and just trying to make it end. In both cases, my LO was not convinced or doing what I hoped, and I was left frustrated, feeling rejected and desperate.

      I learned over time that protecting myself from the verbal assaults and giving myself permission to temporarily step away was self-care. That self-care proved to be beneficial not only to myself but to my LO and everyone else in my life. Boundaries are good for everyone involved.

      What might a boundary look like for you? Keep in mind that these are just suggestions. Be creative. Find what will work for you.

      Mom: “Oh man, I hear that you are upset with me and believe that I did that to hurt you. I really want to talk with you about this and hear what you have to say. Right now, I can feel my own feelings well up. I’m getting hurt, sad and angry. I am not going to be good in this conversation right now. I need a little time. Let me call you back later when I have calmed down and we can talk.”

      Daughter: “Oh yeah, sure. Now you don’t want to talk. You never want to talk when you know it’s your fault. You and the rest of the family! Seeeeeee, you’re running away. The truth comes out, it’s you. That’s great, just say goodbye and—”

      Mom: “Yes, I will call you back later. Bye.”

      Or maybe she hangs up on you. Often these things don’t go nice and calm. It’s more of a whirlwind of raw emotions, with provocations to keep us engaged. Our LO may take some comfort from knowing we are there to be blamed. By removing yourself calmly from the conversation, you are protecting yourself from further verbal abuse. By using “I” statements to describe your feelings, you are letting her know her words have an impact on you. You are modeling how adults handle themselves when their emotions start to take over. You are also owning your piece of this puzzle. That is, you’re sending the message that you’re going to deal with your own feelings because they are your responsibility. You’re indicating that you are open to what she has to say. You’re not abandoning her. But that you’re not going to continue with the conversation when it’s heated.

      This sounds straightforward and easy, but we all know that boundaries are anything but. Our LOs are usually not all that accepting of the new boundary and will ramp things up to try to keep us engaging in a way they’re comfortable with. In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. It can feel very intense and like you’re not getting anywhere and nothing is going to change. “It’s not working!” I hear this often from families. Setting boundaries and managing them over time can be like a wave. I find that I have to implement a boundary three to four times before things peak and start to settle down. And that usually doesn’t change things permanently. I may have to repeat the process again and again because the boundary’s being tested, or we fall back into old patterns. Being aware of this might help you to stay persistent and deal with your own difficult feelings. It’s a long, and often winding, process.

      Don’t try to do this without self-care.

      Let me repeat: take whatever amount of time you need for self-care and settling down. Hours, days, weeks: it’s up to you to determine when you can engage again. Be patient with both yourself and your daughter.

      And be sure to check out the communication and interactive skills and strategies you can learn through the Allies website. Get support from others in evening groups or in any of the skills and training opportunities we offer. You are in a complicated situation, and we want to be as supportive of you through this journey as we can. It is clear that you have not turned away: if that were the case, you wouldn’t be here. Again, you have stepped up in a big way for your grandchildren, and are trying to do what you can for your daughter. Please remember that you’re not alone.