The problems disturbed characters innately have and bring into their relationships are substantial enough even when substance abuse isn’t part of the overall picture. But when a person with significant disturbances of character also engages in substance use or misuse, life can quickly become a virtual nightmare. Character-impaired individuals tend to have relationships that are abusive in nature with any and all of the “objects” (i.e. people, things, circumstances, etc.) in their lives, including their substances of choice. And over the next few weeks, I’ll be addressing some of the problems that typically arise when disturbed characters also happen to be substance abusers.
Many might remember the infamous tabloid photo of a largely unrepentant Lindsey Lohan sitting in a courtroom next to her attorney and flashing fingernails that were painted with the letters “F” and “U” at a judge trying to talk some sense into her about complying with rehab requirements in order to avoid more serious legal sanction. It takes a certain kind of character to display the level of gall Lohan displayed, especially in the face of significant imminent legal consequence (in this particular case, incarceration time). And it’s that same kind of gall (which is an integral component of a certain kind of character disturbance) that leads a person who is already fully aware of both the illegality of and the dangerousness associated with certain drugs (especially illegal ones) to feel comfortable dabbling in them in the first place. It also takes a certain kind of character to persist both in active substance use and in various other use-related behaviors – behaviors not strictly the direct result of a true “addiction” – despite experiencing all sorts of adverse consequences (I speak to the characteristic response to adverse consequence as a defining feature of character disturbance in both Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing as well as the article: Neurosis vs. Character Disorder: Responses to Adverse Consequences) and with remarkable indifference to likely additional future negative consequences. And such characters, as problematic as they already are, are impossibly difficult to deal with when they’re also actively using.
I’ve mentioned before that individuals who are without some degree of character disturbance (Remember, character disturbance exists along a continuum with extreme neurotics and fully disordered characters lying at opposite ends) and inadvertently get hooked on powerfully addictive drugs are quite rare. Such folks might do things totally out of character while under the direct or lingering influence of the substance(s) but they’re also the first to feel grateful for being “restored to sanity” (as 12-step program adherents are wont to say) after proper treatment and achieving sobriety (They’re also much more prone to seek help without being coerced to do so once they realize how out of control their lives have become). More often, substance abusers are folks who already had significant character issues and carried their deficient regard for the greater good and their feelings of grandiosity and entitlement into their forays with substances. And it’s perfectly predictable that such folks soon develop patterns of use that are high risk and that their substance use both exacerbates their existing problematic behaviors and creates disturbing new ones.
Disturbed characters who abuse substances typically don’t do very well in treatment, especially when the treatment is fashioned on the dominant traditional models. I know of far too many cases where families have spent tens of thousands of dollars on sophisticated rehab programs only to feel doubly victimized, both by the financial setback they suffered and the disturbed character’s failure to benefit. There are many reasons why this so often happens, and we’ll be taking a look at some of main ones in this series.
It’s my hope that commentators will share very freely over the coming weeks, as I plan to incorporate issues and questions folks indicate they want addressed into the articles. Just about everyone has some personal experience with a disturbed character who made life even worse because of their problematic substance use. Some may have come to realize first hand how big a role the disturbed character’s dysfunctional attitudes, twisted ways of thinking, and use of tactics complicated matters. Others may have stories to tell about how decimating it was to do everything possible to seek help only to experience frustration and disappointment. I’ll do my best to address all the concerns and questions arising from the discussion.
My apologies for the difficulty accepting call-ins to Character Matters last week. I’m told the technical glitches have been solved, so I hope you’ll consider joining in the conversation this coming Sunday at 7 pm EDT, 6 pm Central.