Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe mental health condition that impacts emotional regulation, impulse control, and interpersonal relationships. The frequent co-occurrence of borderline personality disorder with other disorders, such as substance use disorders, complicates symptoms and treatment options.

A recent national survey found that people with borderline personality disorder are 1.7 times more likely to have a substance use disorder over their lifetime. Prevalence studies further indicate that approximately half of the individuals with borderline personality disorder have substance use disorders, including methamphetamine addiction. Methamphetamine, or meth, is a highly addictive stimulant that directly affects the central nervous system.  Meth addiction is a dangerous, debilitating substance use disorder that is further complicated by co-occurring mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder.  A recent study found that 20.2% of male meth patients had borderline personality disorder, while 35.5% of patients hospitalized for meth-induced psychosis had borderline personality disorder.

Can Meth Cause Borderline Personality Disorder?

It is currently unknown whether meth can cause borderline personality disorder on its own.  However, meth can damage parts of the brain involved in borderline personality disorder symptoms. For example, there is evidence that chronic meth use can change the brain’s structure and damage nerve terminals. Scientific studies have shown that meth can kill brain cells and cause long-term damage to dopamine and serotonin nerve terminals.  Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells by binding to nerve terminals.

Dopamine and serotonin nerve terminal damage can subsequently lead to cognitive deficits such as impaired impulse control, attentional problems, memory problems and impaired motor coordination. Some of these cognitive deficits characterize borderline personality disorder, suggesting that meth use may contribute to the development of borderline personality disorder.

Alternatively, the brain mechanisms behind borderline personality disorder may increase the likelihood of meth addiction. For example, the emotional changes and impulsive behaviors that characterize borderline personality disorder may increase the risk and severity of meth use. Scientists identified that a particular area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is smaller in people with borderline personality disorder. This same area of the brain is thought to be involved in meth dependence, indicating a possible link between the two conditions.

Does Meth Affect Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms?

Borderline personality disorder symptoms include:

  • Rapid changes in mood
  • Intense emotional reactivity
  • Self-destructive and high-risk behavior, including self-harm and suicide attempts
  • Interpersonal difficulties
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • An unstable sense of self

Since borderline personality disorder involves problems with emotional regulation and impulse control, the use of substances that also impact emotions and decision making can worsen symptoms. The euphoric feeling, or high, after meth use, is very appealing to people with borderline personality disorder, as it can temporarily relieve symptoms of emptiness or helplessness. However, meth causes an excess release of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin into the brain and can damage dopamine and serotonin nerve terminals.

Such dysregulation of dopamine and serotonin is associated with borderline personality disorder symptoms. Thus, meth use may exacerbate borderline personality disorder symptoms by causing dopamine and serotonin dysregulation. By worsening symptoms, meth use can also increase the risk of severe borderline personality disorder complications, including self-harm and suicide. Thus, treatment for meth addiction is critical in protecting borderline personality disorder patients from severe consequences.

Treatment Options for Borderline Personality Disorder and Co-Occurring Meth Addiction

Treatment for borderline personality disorder and co-occurring meth addiction is complicated and requires mixed therapeutic strategies. Borderline personality disorder therapy typically involves helping people regulate emotions and control impulses, while meth addiction treatment involves medical detox followed by psychotherapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is one of the most effective therapies for borderline personality disorder with co-occurring substance use disorders. DBT is used to help people with borderline personality disorder to become more aware of their emotions and learn how to control them. DBT is intended to improve:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Distress tolerance
  • Impulse control
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

A specific form of DBT, DBT-SUD, was developed specifically for the treatment of substance use disorders. In DBT-SUD, DBT philosophies are applied to recovery from both borderline personality disorder and substance use disorders. The fundamental principles of DBT-SUD include simultaneous treatment of both disorders, skills training, and individual and group therapy sessions. DBT-SUD can improve recovery outcomes for borderline personality disorder and substance abuse disorders.

Key Points: Borderline Personality Disorder and Meth

Some important points to remember when it comes to borderline personality disorder and meth use are:

  • People with borderline personality disorder experience higher rates of meth addiction
  • Meth use can worsen borderline personality disorder symptoms
  • Borderline personality disorder can increase the risk of meth addiction
  • Successful treatment for co-occurring borderline personality disorder and meth addiction is possible and includes Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

If you or a loved one live with a meth addiction, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative who can guide you through the initial steps of addiction treatment. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

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