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BPD and the Law - Legal Issues and BPD

BPD Symptoms and Legal Woes


Updated March 25, 2010

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If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you are already well-acquainted with the pervasive impact of symptoms in your life. In addition to problems in relationships, work, and physical health, many people with BPD also suffer from legal issues. In fact, about a third of people with BPD will be convicted of a crime in their lifetime.

BPD symptoms can get you in serious trouble with the law, but knowing more about legal issues and BPD can help you make better choices.

Impulsive Behavior and the Law

One source of significant legal troubles is impulsivity. If you have BPD, you may struggle with making decisions without thinking about the consequences, or engaging in behaviors when you are angry or upset that get you into trouble. This is called "impulsive behavior," and it can land many people with BPD in hot water. Reckless driving, shoplifting, and engaging in physical violence are all examples of impulsive behaviors that are also illegal.

BPD and Family Law

In addition to problems with impulsive behaviors, you may have significant difficulties in relationships. Relationships characterized by high conflict are a core feature of BPD. Unfortunately, this means that people with BPD can become entangled in legal battles in the course of divorce. In addition, custody issues can arise when BPD couples separate. Finally, domestic violence can be a serious issue in BPD relationships.

Teens with Legal Issues and BPD

Teenagers with BPD can run into their own set of legal problems. For example, teens struggling with BPD often have very poor school attendance and can run into truancy laws. This can also affect their parents, particularly in places where parents are legally responsible for their child's school attendance and other behavior.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect are potential environmental causes of BPD (although, not all people with BPD suffered from childhood maltreatment). But, child abuse can also be an outcome of BPD. Very intense emotions, including borderline rage can drive someone with BPD to abuse their children, or to be so consumed with their own emotions that they are unable to attend to their children adequately.

There are many people with BPD who work hard to be good parents. But there are also many whose symptoms get in the way of effective parenting. Some are so impaired by their symptoms that they engage in criminal abuse and neglect, sometimes leading to arrest and incarceration.

Substance Abuse

In addition to the core symptoms of BPD that can lead to legal issues, some of the conditions that often co-occur with BPD can be their own source of problems. Rates of alcohol and substance abuse in BPD are remarkably high. Addiction to illegal substances, along with illegal behaviors (e.g., stealing) to maintain a substance habit, can lead to arrest.


Bouchard S, Sabourin S, Lussier Y, Villeneuve E. "Relationship Quality and Stability in Couples When One Partner Suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder." Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 35(4):446-455, 2009.

Howard RC, Huband N, Duggan C, Mannion A. "Exploring the Link Between Personality Disorders and Criminality in a Community Sample." Journal of Personality Disorders, 22(6):589-603, 2008.

Stanford MS, Felthous AR. "Introduction to this Issue: Impulsivity and the Law." Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 26(6):671-673, 2008.

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