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Understanding the Integral Role Personality Issues (And Family) Play in Addiction Recovery

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Like with any disease, there is a multitude of experiences and underlying issues that can impact the development of an addiction. For those with substance use disorders, there is often an underlying personality disorder at play as well. Frequently individuals turn to substance use to curb the negative symptoms of their personality disorder.

“[Personality issues] do not create addiction,” says Brad Sorte, Executive Vice President & Managing Director of the Caron Florida Continuum. “They are a huge piece in creating fertile ground for someone to be in recovery or someone to have addiction take hold.”

Individuals with a personality disorder (narcissism, borderline, and antisocial behavior) avoid emotion and are unable to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Their brain becomes impaired and is not able to regulate emotions, so they begin to cope with emotional challenges by turning to alcohol, or other behaviors, to continuously self-medicate themselves. Over time, this behavior impairs one’s judgement and the result is negative consequences.

“The identification as to where these personality issues came from is key,” says Sorte.

Continuous research shows that trauma, namely childhood trauma, can play a significant role in the development of personality disorders. At one time, these behaviors may have helped a loved one survive a difficult environment, but they’ve grown to become destructive.

“One of the tricky things about personality issues that is different than depression or anxiety is that if you have depression or anxiety you are acutely aware that there is something wrong and you don’t feel well,” notes Sorte. “When someone has personality disorders it is usually the people around them who are aware something is wrong…”

Just like mental health and substance use disorders, personality disorders must be addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.  A plan that includes medical and psychiatric professionals, family members and other clinical professionals to identify the root causes of the behaviour, ensure a proper diagnosis is made and ultimately create a path towards long-term recovery. A comprehensive plan of this nature will then allow for better outcomes for not only the one struggling (the patient), but the entire family.

“The advice I give to families is that they tend to hear about personality stuff and feel very hopeless because there’s this idea that it’s this ‘static state’–that it’s something that can never change and pervades an individual’s life… and while, fundamentally, individuals are not going to change their personality style, we can move from the dysfunctional manifestations of these personality styles to a more socially-adaptable, functional version of it.”


If what you’ve read hits close to home, continue the conversation and reach out to a trusted team of professionals to determine what steps to take next. Visit caron.org, to learn more.