Dependent Personality Disorder and Substance Abuse – If you’ve never heard of dependent personality disorder (DPD), you aren’t alone. Compared to other personality disorders, such as borderline and narcissistic, it’s not discussed that often. It relatively common, however, and can be a profoundly debilitating condition that puts a tremendous strain on close interpersonal relationships.
If left untreated, DPD tends to dramatically impair the life of the person suffering, impeding his or her ability to exert independence and accept responsibility. Also, loved ones may experience severe emotional and sometimes even financial consequences as a result.
What Exactly is DPD?
Dependent personality disorder is a mental illness in which individuals have a difficult time with decision-making, even when it comes to ordinary choices that others might deem to be common sense types of decision. They consistently need advice and reassurance from others in their lives such as parents, peers, or a spouse. Furthermore, they have a low tolerance for criticism or disapproval, and such responses may offer them proof of their own assumed inadequacy.
These individuals might consider themselves so incapable of functioning alone that they will conform to situations and experiences that make them feel uncomfortable or nervous, rather than risk losing the person(s) they are dependent on for supervision or guidance.
With DPD, regular daily activities can be significantly undermined if independence or imaginative thinking is required. These persons often keep a limited number of people in their social circle, particularly only people whom they are dependent upon. When a person with dependent personality is in a relationship that has failed, they may immediately seek out another relationship to provide the support they need and relieve feelings of abandonment.
Symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder
Words used by those who are close to someone with DPD to describe this person may include “needy,” “clingy,” and of course “emotionally dependent.” Individuals with DPD tend to exhibit needy behavior caused by an underlying fear of separation or abandonment.
Symptoms of DPD may also include the following:
- Inability to make daily decisions without the reassurance of others
- Dependence on others to make decisions like where they should work and live
- Avoiding adult responsibilities by behaving as if helpless
- Overly sensitive to criticism
- Willingness to endure neglect or abuse, often placing other people’s needs above their own
- Profound, unrealistic fear of abandonment or being alone
- Feelings of devastation, helplessness, or hopelessness when relationships end
- Avoidance of starting tasks or projects due to a lack of self-confidence
- Avoiding disagreements with others for fear of losing their support or friendship
Like many personality disorders, DPD, which usually begins in early adulthood, tends to decrease in intensity with age. Most commonly, individuals ensure the most extreme symptoms before they reach their forties.
Causes of Dependent Personality Disorder
Like most mental health conditions, there isn’t one known cause of DPD. Rather, a combination of factors are believed to play a role, including an individual’s biology, psychology, developmental experience, and temperament.
Among other possible risk factors include experiencing separation anxiety in childhood. Also, children who experience an extended physical illness may face a higher risk of developing DPD disorder, and women are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from the condition. Some researchers also contend that an overprotective parenting style can contribute to the development of DPD traits in those who are particularly vulnerable.
The Link Between Mental Health Conditions an Substance Abuse
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) states that there is a “definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances” and that persons with a mental illness are responsible for the consumption of:
- 38% of alcohol
- 44% of cocaine
- 40% of cigarettes
NBER also reports that individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in life are responsible for consuming:
- 69% of alcohol
- 84% of cocaine
- 68% of cigarettes
Drug and Alcohol Abuse and DPD Treatment
Substance abuse is much more common among those who suffer from mental health problems than the general population. Some people who have dependent personality disorder may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, so to speak, or manage their symptoms. There may also be risk factors in common between mental illnesses such as DPD and substance use and addiction. In any case, when DPD occurs in conjunction with a substance use disorder, this is known as dual diagnosis or a co-occurring condition.
The misuse of prescription medications is common among people with DPD. Prescription medications are often slow-acting and may take several weeks to induce the desired reduction in symptoms. When an individual isn’t experiencing the results they seek, overuse can become a problem.
In addition to the misuse of medication, illicit drugs and alcohol can impede treatment for DPD because therapy focuses on addressing underlying conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Although drugs like marijuana and alcohol may offer temporary respite from the symptoms of these disorders, these substances also have potentially adverse side effects, especially when used by people with DPD or some other mental illness.
Effects of Substance Abuse on DPD Symptoms
It can be very difficult for individuals with DPD to complete drug or alcohol treatment without first managing their mental health disorder. If their underlying anxiety or depression are not addressed, the person will still likely struggle with many of the symptoms of DPD and use drugs or alcohol as a means to cope.
Moreover, substance abuse can exaggerate the symptoms of DPD, making it more challenging to live with the condition. As the condition remains untreated and worsens, the likelihood that the person will continue to abuse substances on an escalating scale may increase.
Statistics on Dependent Personality Disorder and Drug Abuse
An estimated 2-3% of the general population has DPD, and in a study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), it was revealed that about 8% of substance abuse patients had DPD. The incidence of alcohol use, however, among DPD patients was around 80%. Also, approximately 11% of people diagnosed with DPD use marijuana.
Treatment for Substance Abuse and DPD
When these two conditions occur together, they must be treated in conjunction and not independent of each other. Treatment for substance abuse alone will not relieve many of the symptoms of DPD, and treatment for DPD, though helpful, will not necessarily prevent or reverse chemical dependence or compulsive drug-seeking behaviors. Treatment of both should involve a comprehensive approach that includes psychotherapy, counseling, and group support.
Harmony Treatment Center offers evidence-based programs that can effectively treat clients with a dual diagnosis. We employ highly-skilled mental health professionals and addiction specialists who collaborate in the assessment of each client and develop treatment programs customized to individual needs and goals.
We are dedicated to providing our clients with the tools, resources, and support they so desperately need to overcome addiction and improve their lives by managing symptoms associated with DPD and other mental health problems.
If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to substances and a co-occurring mental health disorder, please contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. We help clients to reclaim their lives and free themselves from the grips of addiction!