Can Alcohol Cause Personality Disorders?

Can Alcohol Cause Personality Disorders?Both alcoholism and personality disorders are serious problems. Since many people who have one problem also suffer from the other, having one problem is a good reason to be extra vigilant about the presence or development of the other. The relationship between alcoholism and personality disorders, however, is complex.

Cause and Effect

Alcohol is not thought of as a cause of personality disorders. Psychologists are still working to develop a better understanding of how and why personality disorders develop. Traumatic experiences in childhood appear to play a key role. Genetic predispositions may also be a factor. Even the degree of an infant’s sensitivity to light and other stimuli could possibly cause personality disorders later in life.


Many people with personality disorders, particularly if they are undiagnosed, turn to alcohol as a way to help reduce some of the symptoms of their disorder. Those with borderline personality disorder (BPD), for instance, suffer from intense and erratic emotions. Alcohol can mitigate some of the highs and lows that they feel.

Chronic depression and anxiety can stem from BPD and other personality disorders. Alcohol can also be used in an attempt to escape from these symptoms. If this self-medication becomes a habit, the temporary solution of alcohol may develop into a long-term problem of alcoholism.

Bringing Out Symptoms

Alcoholism developing on top of an existing personality disorder may make the symptoms of the personality disorder more pronounced and severe. Although personality disorders are serious mental health problems, the severity of symptoms can sometimes be reduced by positive circumstances. Peer influences, supportive professional circumstances and family stability can all help mitigate the severity of personality disorders. Alcoholism, however, tends to reduce these positive and stable situations, causing the symptoms of the personality disorder to increase.

Disorders Masking One Another

Alcoholism and personality disorders can also complicate the diagnosis of each disorder. When both are present, the behaviors and symptoms of the personality disorder can instead be attributed to alcoholism. Personality disorders may be masked when their symptoms are apparently accounted for by the influence of alcohol. The symptoms of personality disorders that could be perceived as the result of alcohol include the following:

  • Unusual expression of ideas could be a symptom of schizotypal personality disorder.
  • Excessive exploitation of relationships could be a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Inability to cope when alone could be a symptom of dependent personality disorder.

The opposite effect is also possible. The symptoms of a known personality disorder can mask alcoholism. The person’s large intake of alcohol, however, would probably have to be hidden in order for alcoholism to not be suspected.

Comprehensive Recovery

When someone suffers from both alcoholism and a personality disorder, successful rehabilitation and recovery depend on a unified approach to treatment. It’s not possible to simply tackle one problem and then move on to the other.

If a personality disorder may be present, an alcoholic should enter a treatment program that is qualified to treat both co-occurring disorders.

Getting Help

Alcoholism and personality disorders can both be treated. Call our toll-free helpline to learn about options for addressing either one or both. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day, so call now.