Dependent personality disorder (DPD) can impact your relationships, self-image, and ability to set important boundaries. Unfortunately, having DPD can impact your own ability to heal and negatively affect a loved one’s ability to heal. This article explains DPD and its role in enabling addiction, how it’s a form of addiction on its own, and how it can influence addiction treatment and recovery.

What Is Dependent Personality Disorder?

Dependent personality disorder is defined as a mental condition where a person relies entirely on others to meet their physical and emotional needs even though they may be able to take care of themselves. The exact cause of DPD is unknown, but the disorder often begins as a result of childhood or adolescent trauma that leads to the person developing a fear of abandonment. A psychiatrist usually won’t diagnose a person with DPD until they are an adult, as symptoms relating to care and dependence are contingent on the person’s age, and whether or not the level of dependency is age appropriate. Symptoms of DPD include:

  • Difficulty making everyday decisions without excessive amounts of advice or reassurance from others
  • Needing others to assume responsibility for major areas of their life
  • Difficulty expressing disagreement out of fear of abandonment
  • Difficulty doing things on their own due to doubt in their own abilities
  • Going to extreme lengths to obtain support from others, even if it involves doing something unpleasant
  • Feelings of discomfort or helplessness when alone because of exaggerated fears of being unable to care for themselves
  • Seeking other relationships as a source of support and care as soon as a close relationship ends
  • Unrealistically preoccupied with fears of abandonment

Dependent Personality Disorder and Addiction

It is not uncommon for personality disorders to co-occur with addiction. DPD isn’t an exception. There are many factors in DPD that contribute to the development of substance use disorder (SUD). How and why a person started using substances might depend on the person’s specific experience, but symptoms of DPD can influence decision-making and a person’s ability to get help on their own. Factors that might contribute to a person with DPD developing an addiction can include an inability to set boundaries, lack of personal identity, direct influence from their support system, and inability to advocate for themselves.

Inability to Set Boundaries

Those with DPD tend to have a hard time saying no. This can become dangerous, especially when it comes to substance use. If someone they care about also uses substances, they are more likely to give into the pressure to use substances, even if they are uncomfortable or want to stop. They might struggle to set boundaries with a partner they know also struggles with substance use, and then consequently enable their addiction. An inability to set boundaries can also lead to exposing themselves to mistreatment and abuse. This can impact a person’s mental health, leading them to self-medicate as a way to cope.

They Might Not Have Life Skills

Those who rely solely on their partner most likely believe they don’t need to develop the skills needed to be independent. Important life skills, such as cooking for themselves, practicing physical fitness, and self-care, can help a person be responsible for their own well-being as well as help them progress in life. A person relying on others might feel stuck or dissatisfied. They might rely on substance use to cope with any underlying feelings of helplessness that they might blame on themselves and their perceived inability.

How DPD Impacts Addiction Treatment

It’s harder to help someone be their own person and take care of themselves if they believe they don’t have the ability to do it. DPD can complicate the success of a person’s treatment because of how much they rely on others. They don’t believe that they are able to be their own person and make their own decisions. They think they need others in order to function. This becomes a problem in treatment because addiction treatment and recovery require a person to become their own advocate. During treatment, they might have the complete support of the staff, but outside of treatment, they’re reliant on themself and their ability to take care of themself.

Why a DPD Diagnosis Can’t Be Ignored

A person with DPD might appear as if they are passing the requirements of treatment with flying colors on the surface, but underneath they may only be agreeing and complying with treatment expectations because of disorder symptoms, and not because they are actually improving and getting better. While the consequences of this might not be obvious during treatment, it can become complicated when the person leaves treatment. During recovery, they might resort back to their old ways. If they haven’t learned how to be independent, they still fear abandonment, or they avoid disagreements, it will be difficult for them to commit to their recovery and develop the personal resiliency required to live a sober life. 

In a way, those with dependent personality disorder have an addiction to relationships. They tie their entire worth into who is caring for and supporting them. This develops a toxic situation that makes it hard for a person to get better. In order to be successful in treatment, you need to be your own advocate. Support systems are important in addiction treatment and recovery, but they can’t be something that you rely on completely. When a person is diagnosed with DPD, they need to unlearn these behaviors. With the help of talk therapy and learning independence, a person with DPD can become their own advocate and source of support. At Bella Monte, we focus on treating every factor of the person, including underlying mental health. If you would like to learn more about how personality disorders impact addiction, call us today at (800) 974-1938.