Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and BPD - There is Hope! (Borderline Personality Disorder)

A Way to Numb The Pain

For me drinking was a way for me to handle negative emotions. It allowed me to escape the overwhelming unhappiness I felt and to instead feel nothing at all.

Like any other “negative” coping mechanism I thought drinking worked great for a while. I began drinking regularly about at about age 15 to cope with the overwhelming emotions, depression and mood swings I had been experiencing since about age 11. Although drinking caused the occasional problems like sleeping through appointments, not being able to do homework and the guilt and fear I felt from stealing alcohol since I was too young to purchase it, I saw it as something that was helping me stay sane and something I would be able to stop doing before it got out of control.

Despite all of this, I managed to graduate  from high school and was accepted to the college of my choice, and I was off! Unfortunately my drinking did become out of control very quickly and I wasn’t able to stop it the way I thought I could. I wasn’t engaging in the typical college student partying. I was on a downward spiral of drinking, drugging and depression. I wasn’t going to class, and if I was then I wasn’t sober.

I was isolating, oversleeping and not doing homework. I was placing myself in increasingly dangerous situations with people I didn’t know. Before I could complete my first semester the situation came to a head.


I won’t go into details but in one night my drinking led to a situation where I was arrested and abused severely victimized. I was 18 and it was my first wake up call that my drinking had to be stopped. It was easy to see that the benefits I felt drinking provided no longer outweighed the consequences.


I moved back home and went to my first alcohol treatment program. I did my best to stay sober, trying different programs and therapy, but over the next 7 years I continued to struggle with drinking,mental health issues and other impulsive and destructive behaviors. I could manage to stay sober for a few months here and there but it would never stick. Even during the times I was sober from alcohol I found myself acting out compulsively, abusing some other type of behavior in order to cope with my emotions.

My Relapse Red Flags

Here are some of the thoughts that have preceded a relapse for me:

     I’m not an alcoholic. I just have mental illness. If I focus on keeping my mental health in check I will be able to handle my drinking.
     I don’t like taking medication so I won’t. (Suddenly stopping led to major crashes mentally which led to drinking)
     I can’t handle this breakup. I need to drink to cope.
     It’s been so long since the last time I drank. My mind is clearer. I think I can handle it now.
     I’m too young to be an alcoholic.
     I will just drink to get through the stressful time then I will stop.
     I will control it this time! I have a good understanding of what is wrong so I will just try harder this time to manage my drinking.

The Consequences of Turning To Substances

I felt I was on a constant roller coaster of emotions, and my behaviors followed suit. I lost jobs, lost romantic-relationships, failed classes, harmed myself, damaged my health and let my family down over and over again.

If I wasn’t abusing alcohol I was abusing food (binging or restricting), sex or exercise. None of these things are “bad” in themselves. They only become a problem if they are used compulsively as a way to cope with negative emotions. I was using these behaviors as a way to escape my pain.

I now realize that as I was working to blot out the pain I was also blotting out the good things in my life too, neglecting the things that mattered until they started to fall away.

When I Finally Reached Rock Bottom


I finally hit my last “rock bottom” experience December 25th 2011. It was Christmas, and I landed myself in the psychiatric hospital after bizarre, suicidal behavior and a relapse. I felt so defeated and disgusted with myself and my life. After seven years of trying to stay sober and healthy, after all the treatment centers, therapy, doctors and medications I thought “How did I end up here again?”

I knew that I didn’t really want to die but I couldn't go on living in constantly hurting myself and the people that cared about me. I decided that rather than end it all I would do everything I could to get better. My recovery from my mental health issues and addiction would be my number one priority in life. I would stop making excuses and rationalizing my behavior.


What My Road To Recovery Involved

After I got out of the hospital I used every tool at my disposal to get better. Here are the things that worked for me:

Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) - Many hospitals and treatment centers offer IOP programs. I did a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) IOP. It was three hours a day of therapy, four times a week for 30 days. For me this was helpful because it got me in the habit of making recovery my main focus every day and helped me to develop structure which is vital for our mental health.

If you are just getting sober after a long period of heavy drinking, using or some other type of compulsive behavior and are struggling with cravings, going to an inpatient treatment center might be helpful. It creates the structure and focus while at the same time separating you from the temptation of relapse till you can think more clearly.

If neither of these is a possible option for you I recommend going to a 12 step group or some other type of support group several times a week in early sobriety to establish that focus and routine. (I will go more into 12 step and support groups later)

Regular Therapy Sessions - After IOP I continued regular weekly therapy. For me what worked was seeing an individual therapist weekly for a couple months and then attending a weekly DBT therapy group for several months after that. Through therapy I have learned how I came to have many of my destructive thinking patterns and coping mechanisms and how to develop new ones. I have learned tools for handling difficult situations and emotions.

12 Step meetings and support groups - 12 step meetings and support groups are a great way to make new friends and connections with people that are also working on improving their lives. One of the big struggles for people that are new to sobriety is feeling lonely when they can no longer spend time going out with friends that are drinking. Through groups you can meet people that mutually support each other in recovery. You can find people to spend time with engaging in healthy constructive activities. It’s helpful to have people you feel accountable to. I also found it helpful when I was new in sobriety to see other people who were happy and able to get better. It helped me to know if it was possible for them to have peace that I could too.

(One note about 12 step groups, many people oppose them because of the spiritual aspect in the language they use. This turned me off for many years as well. Currently I do not believe in any kind of deity and I still work a 12 step program I benefit greatly from. So no, you do not have to believe in God to be a part of the program.)

Working the 12 Steps - Not only do I attend meetings but working the 12 steps has been a huge part of my recovery as well. Going through the 12 steps with a peer in recovery has been another form of therapy for me. It has been a way for me to examine myself and make changes to my behavior the same way I have learned to do with my therapists.

Psychiatric Medications - For me I feel that medications have been a necessary help. They allow me to think clearer. Since my mind is not so dominated by obsessive thoughts and rollercoaster emotions I am able to focus on the things I learn in recovery and apply them to my life.

Reading and Meditation - Every morning, ok almost every morning, I start the day with about 30 minutes to an hour of reading and meditation. I read self-help and inspirational books, then think about the things I read and how I can apply them in my life that day. This makes a huge difference in the way I approach the day.

Journaling/ review - At night before bed I like to journal about my day or whatever is on my mind. I use the time to evaluate the progress I make in my recovery and if I am behaving in a way that is consistent with my values. I also think about the things I am grateful for and the people who I would like to help.

Abstaining from sex and relationships - I know how extreme this seems! Trust me it was not easy. It was suggested to me by therapists and people in my 12 step programs to spend some time single focusing on myself. It worked! For the first time in my life I was the number one priority in my life. [DD2] I focused all my attention on getting better and caring for myself rather than someone else. In the past my relapses were often around relationships too.

I always thought I had to be with someone in order to be ok.

 Staying single for a while allowed me toI realiz that I was strong and confident enough to be alone. I stayed single for 6 months before I felt healthy enough to get involved again.  

Helping others - Helping other people has been a good way for me to stop ruminating when I am feeling depressed. It also brings so much joy to know that I have made a difference to someone else. I do different things from volunteering to talk to people at treatment centers to thinking of ways I can do something kind for someone.

In recovery I chose to completely abstain from alcohol. If you find your drinking troublesome you will have to make the decision for yourself whether or not you can moderate or if you must stop altogether. DBT teaches a middle path approach as opposed to all or nothing thinking but for me it was easier to completely give alcohol up. I realized that drinking wasn’t adding anything to my life and when I did try to control it, I became obsessed with controlling it so in a way it still dominated me.

Keepin’ On Keepin’ On

Recovery has been very hard work. I think of it as learning a new way to live. The way I was used to living before was dysfunctional. Through recovery I have become aware of the ineffective things I was doing and learn new healthier ways to get through life. Although it has been difficult, it has been completely worth it.

After 1 ½ years of working hard and staying sober I am more stable than I have ever been in life. Emotionally my moods are steady. I am back in school and improving my GPA that I damaged so badly before. I am working steadily and discovering new things I am passionate about. I am in a healthy relationship.

The most amazing thing of all is simply the fact that I have peace in my life today. When things go wrong and I feel upset I have tools to handle my emotions. I no longer have to go to extremes deaden them which usually just ended up making the problems worse. I always think of this analogy: In the past I saw it raining and I was overwhelmed by it. I thought it was going to flood, and it was the end of the world.

My emotional reactions to this perceived situation were equally as extreme and I would act out in damaging ways. Today when it is raining I can see it for what it is. It may not be pleasant and it may ruin some plans but I know I can stay calm. I know it will pass and that I will be ok.

By Danielle Zavala (www.daniz.me[DD3] )


  1. I have this duel diagnosis and truly believe it's the worst possible mix of conditions ever. I'm still struggling but not as bad as I was. I did dbt as well, hopefully I will find peace some day.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Kaiteydoll. ♥

    2. Thanks so much for sharing your story Dani Z - I too struggle with addiction and BPD - went away to rehab for a short period to deal with my drug and alcohol abuse so I can focus on treating my BPD without self medicating. However it's can be sooo difficult when things go wrong not to cope with out my old "coping" mechanism. I was working the 12 steps as well and it does help (I found a lot of my DBT work went hand in hand with coping with my addiction). Concurrent disorders can be the worst for sure - my local addiction health department in my city couples BPD with addiction and has has a DBT course that focuses on both. I'm so grateful for their support. (ADGS of Hamilton, ON).

      do appreciate this post and can relate completely so thanks so much for sharing - it helped me share too - those with dual disorders you are not alone and yes there is hope!! :)

    3. Thank you for the comments Kaiteydoll and VikkiBee. I know it can be difficult but it is possible to find peace. DBT theapy is awesome. Hang in there and keep working on making healthy decisions. Never give up. <3

  2. I think if I commented on this article alone, it would end up being a post itself. So, I'm just going to do that (make a response post/video). Other than that, just know that *so much* of this resonated with me. I've recently realized myself that a "middle path," at least in terms of alcohol, is not effective for me building a life worth living. You're most frequent thoughts leading to a relapse are also much the same as my own, and reading those, I go right back to the many times that happened in my life.

    Thanks so much for writing this post. It's paints a clear picture of how alcohol/substance abuse can manifest in someone's life along with another mental illness. Many hugs and continued support sent your way, as it really is "a day at a time."

    1. Hello Aeshe,

      Very much looking forward to your video response on this topic. I'm sure that Dani appreciates your comment and support as well.

      ♥ Debbie

    2. Great post. You have told my story in many of the details. I was sober for 7 years before learning DBT for my BPD. It was what I need to finally become happy and peaceful in sobriety ( which I now have 9 yrs of). Thanks for sharing.

    3. congrats on 9 years Write into the Light! I'm almost 3 yrs sober on Aug 10th of this yr - one day at a time of course. Thanks Aeshe Calyx for sharing as well - really helps us all know we are not struggling on our own with dual recoveries - love and light to you all! ♥♥

    4. Hi Aeshe thank you for the comment. I remember watching an older video of yours, you mention that you were going to try to manage the drinking. I am looking foward to your new vlog and I'm glad you find my post helpful. <3

    5. Thank you for the comment an Congrats on 9 years @Write into the Light!

  3. I have no Insurance and very little income. How does one go about getting treatment?

    1. Hi Zimmer. There are unfortunately a lot of people in your situation. What country are you in? Is there perhaps a sliding scale facility nearby? You might also check with Amanda Smith of Hope for BPD, as she helps connect people with services.



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