What is a personality disorder?

A personality disorders is a form of mental illness in which the individual has difficulty recognizing and interacting appropriately to situations and with people – including self-interaction. Generally, a personality disorder is characterized by an unyielding and unhealthy pattern of behavior and thought processes, regardless of the situation, which leads to problems in work, social, and interpersonal relationships. The biggest obstacle to identifying a personality disorder is that for the person needing help, the behavior seems normal, and problems lie outside of them.  Signs that a personality disorder may exist include:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Need for instant gratification
  • Poor impulse control
  • Social isolation
  • Stormy relationships
  • Suspicion and mistrust of others

However, healthy individuals may experience each of these at any given time. If they are persistent, though, or are beginning to appear in combination or are contributing to increasingly destructive behavior, then it is necessary to seek help and diagnosis.

Most common types of personality disorders

Specific types of personality disorders
Personality disorders are grouped into three clusters based on symptoms and similarities.

Cluster A personality disorders – Characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior and include:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

Cluster B personality disorders – Disorders characterized by dramatic, overly emotional thinking or behavior and include:

  • Antisocial (formerly called sociopathic) personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder

Cluster C personality disorders – Characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior and include:

  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Additionally, many people who are diagnosed with one personality disorder also have signs and symptoms of at least one additional personality disorder.

Treatment modalities

Personality disorders can be treated in a number of different ways. Treatment modalities include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medications
  • Hospitalization

Psychotherapy – This is the principal method for treating personality disorders. The different methods include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Dialectical behavior therapy

Psychotherapy may be delivered  in individual, group, or family settings. The method used depends on the unique circumstances of the individual seeking therapy.

Medications
While there are not any medications approved by the FDA to treat personality disorders, there are several classifications of psychiatric medications that may help with the symptoms of personality disorders. Among them are:

  • Antidepressant medications
  • Mood-stabilizing medications
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antipsychotic medications (neuroleptics)

Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
In some cases, a personality disorder may be so severe that hospitalization is necessary, usually if the individual is not able to care for him or herself or if there is a danger of harm to the client or others. The different options for hospitalization include:

  • 24-hour inpatient care
  • Partial, or day, hospitalization
  • Residential treatment

Dual Diagnosis of Personality Disorders and Dependence

Because any mental health disorder can reduce a client’s chances for successful drug and alcohol dependence recovery, Burning Tree evaluates every client for possible mental health issues. A dual diagnosis of a personality disorder and dependence could explain why the client’s previous attempts at sobriety were unsuccessful. Once the dual diagnosis has been established, a suitable integrated treatment plan for both the personality disorder and the drug or alcohol dependence can be created.

Clinical Treatment for Personality Disorders

Clients who require this type of treatment participate in clinical treatment for a personality disorder as part of the overall program at Burning Tree. The treatment may consist of one-on-one and group sessions and even family treatment integration. Helping a client with personality disorders understand the effects of unconscious thoughts and develop strategies for changing behavior patterns proves highly effective due to the ability for clients put these newly acquired skills into practice continuously before returning to independent living.