According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “antisocial” can mean, “being or marked by behavior deviating sharply from the social norm.” People like this might hurt others, and they might not show remorse for that behavior. They might find it difficult to empathize with others, and they might steal, lie or cheat because they find it so easy to get away with their actions. People like this might also take addictive drugs.
The use of illegal substances, or the use of legal substances in unusual contexts, allows them to continue to defy the laws of society. These substances might also help them to experience at least a little pleasure in a day in which the only source of joy arises through the panic or fear of others.
Impulses Running Wild
It’s long been known that people who have antisocial disorder also have a tendency to use and abuse substances. In fact, this overlap is so common that researchers writing in the journal Psychological Reports suggest that alcoholism, drug abuse and antisocial personality are so intertwined that when one disorder is diagnosed, the other two conditions should be suspected, and the patient should be tested accordingly. In the past, this was just an assumption, and researchers came to this conclusion by looking at the thoughts and behaviors of people with drug abuse issues and antisocial issues, and then looking for ties between the two sets of behaviors. The ties were there to find, but until recently, researchers weren’t quite sure why addictions and antisocial personalities seemed to be so very connected. Research conducted on impulsivity may provide some clues.
During an average day, a person has thoughts, feelings and desires on a regular basis. Sometimes, people are even tempted to act on these thoughts, feelings and desires, but they’re able to use the higher portions of the brain to keep these impulses in check and remain true to the expectations of the self and the people nearby. Research suggests that people who have antisocial personality disorders have a lack of impulse control. When a thought enters their mind, they simply can’t stop themselves from acting upon it.
This impulsivity could allow people to start the use and abuse of drugs, as they may see a substance they find intriguing and see no reason why they shouldn’t take the substance right away. A lack of impulse control could also serve to lock an addiction in place, as it might modify the way in which people use and abuse addictive substances, according to an article in Science Daily. Here, researchers suggest that people with antisocial disorders tend to drink to excess when they do start drinking, as they simply can’t find a way to stop once they’ve started. They can’t control their actions once they’re in play. Taking in huge doses of addictive substances in one sitting has been linked to high levels of addiction, as it tends to cause much more damage to brain cells than low levels of substance use. As a result, people with antisocial personalities might transition to addiction much quicker than people who don’t have this mental illness.
A Hypersensitive Mind
Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health also suggests that people with antisocial personality disorders also have brains that are much more responsive to the dopamine system. This chemical pathway is used by the brain in response to a pleasurable stimulus, such as:
- Good food
- Rigorous exercise
- Physical pleasure
- Escape from conflict
Everyone feels a surge of dopamine when something wonderful happens, but this research suggests that people with antisocial personality disorders feel just a little more of a boost than other people do, and they might also feel that dopamine rush in response to other kinds of input. For example, while healthy people might feel a dopamine rush in response to seeing someone they love, a person with antisocial disorder might feel that boost in response to the idea of causing another person pain. This trait might make people with antisocial personality disorders more aggressive, but it could also play a role in addiction.
Research from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease suggest that people who have antisocial personality disorders tend to lean on drugs like cocaine and heroin, while people who have another mental illness mixed in tend to abuse prescription benzodiazepine drugs. It’s possible that, since heroin and cocaine tend to work on the dopamine system, people with antisocial personality disorder experience a bigger boost from these drugs than other people do. The drugs might be more reinforcing for them, and they might use them and become addicted to them more frequently as a result.
Finding the Source
The families, friends and acquaintances of people who have antisocial disorder may know that the addiction doesn’t seem to help with the progression of the disease. Addictive drugs tend to break down the ability of the mind to control impulses yet more, and some drugs even seem to stoke the fires of aggression and lawlessness.
While people who have this disorder might seem unusual or angry while sober, when they’re intoxicated, they might:
- Steal drugs or money for drugs
- Fight with other people
- Destroy property
- Abuse children or animals
These impulses might be just beneath the surface, and drugs might bring them to the surface where they can be acted upon. However, people with these issues may not believe that there’s anything wrong with them. Instead, they might think that others are trying to hurt, manipulate or control them. Sadly, they may not see the need for therapy until they’re arrested for their behavior, and it’s not uncommon for people with addictions and antisocial disorder to get arrested for their behavior.
No matter why treatment begins, it really can help. In treatment programs, people can learn more about how their thought patterns play a role in the way they behave. The idea isn’t to change people or to take them over. The idea is to help them change the choices they make, no matter what their brains might tell them to do. As the writer M.E. Thomas said in his book about life with a social disorder, “Every being is capable of salvation; my actions are what matters, not my ruthless thoughts, not my nefarious motivations.” By identifying thoughts as either healthy and worthy of action, or unhealthy and worthy of nothing at all, people can make better choices about the way they behave around others. They may also be able to make better choices regarding drugs.Since people with antisocial disorder struggle with stopping the use of substances once they start using them, abstinence therapies may be particularly helpful for them. If they don’t pick up a glass of alcohol, a pipe of drugs or a bottle of pills, they may not need to fight their inability to stop. Treatment programs may help by asking clients to outline the situations in which they feel the strongest cravings for drugs, as well as the people who tend to entice them to take drugs. Then, people can learn how to either avoid those triggers or handle them without taking drugs. It takes practice, but it can be helpful for people with this disorder.
Some researchers also suggest that those with antisocial disorder benefit from family therapy sessions in which they’re forced to listen to others describe their thoughts or feelings. The therapist remains in charge of these sessions, ensuring that the conversation is helpful and not harmful and that the person listens and remains respectful. In sessions like this, people might learn how to “read” the emotions of other people and understand why they simply must be kind. They may also learn how to trust, which is something people with antisocial disorders typically find difficult to accomplish.
All of this work isn’t easy, and people with antisocial disorders may be tempted to drop out of treatment programs each and every day. That’s why inpatient programs might be a better choice. Instead of traveling to and from the treatment center each day, and feeling tempted to skip the trip, people will live within the walls of the facility in which they receive help. They won’t be so tempted to drop out, as they won’t be traveling hardly at all. This is the kind of care we offer at Axis, and we believe it’s the best choice for some people with complex cases of addiction. If you’d like to know more, just call us.