Dependent Personality Disorder causes and treatment: Can DPD lead to addiction?

People diagnosed with Dependent Personality Disorder tend to process behaviors, emotions, and thoughts in a way that puts them at a higher risk of developing addictions. How can Dependent Personality Disorder be recognized and treated? Learn here.

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One of the most overlooked psychological problems with addiction is the contribution of Dependent Personality Disorder, also known as DPD. Underlying most addictions, especially alcohol and gambling, is this disorder. But take hope! There are ways to recognize and treat DPD.

Do you recognize the symptoms of Dependent Personality Disorder in yourself? How is DPD linked with addiction? Read more here, and send us your questions in the comments section at the bottom of the page. We try to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and as soon as possible.

What is Dependent Personality Disorder?

To begin, it is important to know that any personality disorder is a deficit: a developmental emotional task has not been accomplished and requires a “corrective emotional experience” in order to right it. Dependent Personality Disorder usually manifests as needy, passive, and clinging behavior. Fear of separation or abandonment is also usually present. How does DPD develop?

DPD is usually related to the recurrence of some serious, severe, or life-changing moment in the past that contributed to the development of dependency on others. By reframing it for today – how the event makes you feel today – you can develop mastery over the need to be dependent.

It can be difficult for a person with Dependent Personality Disorder to express a full range of emotions such as:

  • anger
  • shame
  • fear
  • disgust
  • love

Instead, people diagnosed with DPD spend time trying to please others. They take criticism and disapproval as proof of worthlessness and lose faith in themselves. Humiliation, submission, and passivity become a part of behavior.

What it’s like to have DPD

Some years ago, when I was playing tennis with a very well-known movie star, I found I couldn’t speak to him. The words got stuck in my mouth like cotton candy. My mouth literally dried up. I felt the color deplete from my face and I couldn’t believe how embarrassed I was. The star looked at another player and asked:

“What’s wrong with her?” … a question I asked myself the entire drive home.

What was wrong with me was that I needed someone to look up to. Someone who was special, greater than the rest of us. Perhaps if I found that person and emulated everything he or she did, I would be great, worthy of love, whole, acceptable and “cured” of my shyness.

Later in life when I found out that it was the humiliation of a neighbor trying to sexually abuse me and my friend (his daughter) in a park, but not getting the opportunity because my mother arrived just in time to ask what was going on, that I realized that was my “problem”– my disgrace. His daughter committed suicide when she was twenty-one because she had been sexually abused her entire childhood. I didn’t know that. I was a kid. A lucky kid at that.

Dependent personality disorder and addiction

Strong emotions are feelings that people with personality disorders cannot control. These emotions always seem to be caused by someone else. The dependent personality project blame on others for feelings they can’t express directly. Feelings such as:

  • “You made me feel this way”, or
  • “If you hadn’t done such and such, this never would have happened”

We all have emotional needs for other people. We want to be taken care of when we feel helpless. A common fantasy is someone coming to our rescue or taking on the burdens of life for us. But Dependent Personality Disordered people have those feelings all the time.

They don’t want to be on their own. They need help – people, booze, sex, alcohol, drugs…and because people diagnosed with DPD are particularly susceptible to anxiety, to drug or alcohol abuse, or to “strong” or “powerful” people, they continue to have an unhappy existence. They are afraid of “falling apart,” losing their minds, if they don’t get some sustenance from an outside source.

That is the definition of addiction.

How can you recognize Dependent Personality Disorder?

1. The inability to make decisions without guidance from someone else, anyone else in some cases;
2. Fear or rejection which will lead you to agreeing with other people even when you know they are wrong;
3. Lack of initiative and inability to do things alone because you feel the “whatever I do doesn’t matter anyway;”
4. The intense need to please other people even offering to do unpleasant things to be liked;
5. Fear of being alone and going to extremes in order to be with someone else;
6. Dreading the end of a dependent relationship.
7. Often feeling devastated, helpless, or seriously depressed when that relationship ends;
8. Craving approval all the time and becoming deeply hurt if you are criticized.

Alcohol and its cohorts: gambling, sexual acting out, illicit drugs, all seem to stem the tide of that devastation until they become devastating.

How can therapy help?

The goal of therapy for DPD would be to increase your sense of autonomy and assertiveness and your ability to function on your own. Begin by making small decisions without other’s reassurance and then escalate to bigger ones. Take pride in the fact that although you feel ambivalent (the backbone of addiction and Dependent Personality Disorder), you went ahead anyway, knowing you made a decision that is good for yourself.

Q: What would I do now if that movie star asked, “What’s wrong with her?”
A: I would have confronted him and told him that being a movie star to me means “making it in life,” means love and devotion from millions of people, means a glamor and excitement that I might never feel and it’s overwhelming. But, I would also tell him, “Thank you for letting me feel all those feelings I’ve been hiding my whole life.”

Dependent Personality and addiction questions

Do you or someone close to you display the signs of a personality disorder? You should never be ashamed of talking about your emotions and asking for professional help. If you have any additional questions, feel free to post them in the designated section below. We welcome your feedback and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

About the author
Stefanie Stolinsky, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist and has a private practice in Beverly Hills. She has worked extensively with abuse and trauma survivors privately and with the military. She also works with those suffering from gambling addiction. She is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, Act It Out: 25 Expressive Ways to Heal from Childhood Abuse. Her newest comedy/mystery HOT SHOT is now available on, Kindle, FierySeasPublishing, and Barnes and Noble.
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