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Keywords:

  • Personality Disorder;
  • Chronic Alcoholism;
  • Psychiatric Comorbidity

Background

Comorbidity of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and substance and alcohol use disorders (SUDs and AUDs) is very high. The literature suggests a negative synergy between BPD and SUDs, which may impact an individual's ability to achieve and maintain remission of either disorder in the face of the other.

Methods

We examined lifetime and current (past year) BPD symptom counts in 3 gender- and age-comparable groups: short-term abstinent alcoholics (STA, 6 to 15 weeks abstinent), long-term abstinent alcoholics (LTA, more than 18 months abstinent), and nonsubstance-abusing controls (NSAC). Abstinent individuals were recruited primarily from mutual-help recovery networks and about half had comorbid drug dependence. BPD symptoms were obtained using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR Axis II Personality Disorders, followed up with questions regarding currency, but did not require that BPD symptoms represent persistent or pervasive behavior such as would meet criteria for BPD diagnosis. Thus, our study dealt only with BPD symptoms, not BPD diagnoses.

Results

Alcoholics had more lifetime and current symptoms for most all BPD criteria than NSAC. In general, STA and LTA did not differ in BPD symptoms, except for a group-by-gender effect for both lifetime and current anger-associated symptoms and for lifetime abandonment avoidance symptoms. For these cases, there were much higher symptom counts for STA women versus men, with comparable symptom counts for LTA women versus men.

Conclusions

Our results suggest for the most part that BPD symptoms do not prevent the maintenance of recovery in AUD and SUD individuals who have established at least 6 weeks abstinence within the mutual-help recovery network—in fact the presence of BPD symptoms is the norm. However, we did find difficulty in establishing longer-term abstinence in women with anger-associated symptoms and abandonment avoidance symptoms.