Legal Issues and Borderline Personality Disorder

Common legal issues you may face if you have BPD.

Judges walking through courthouse together. Credit: Robert Daly

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you are already well-acquainted with the serious impact symptoms can have on 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 cause you to get in trouble with the law, but knowing more about legal issues and how they are affected by BPD can help you identify potential problem areas.

Impulsive Behavior and the Law

One source of significant legal trouble is impulse control. If you have BPD, you may struggle with taking actions without thinking about the consequences or engaging in behaviors when you are angry or upset. This is called "impulsive behavior," and it can land many people with BPD in hot water. Reckless driving, shoplifting and getting into fights are all examples of impulsive behaviors that are also illegal. Since many with BPD feel emotions intensely and have severe reactions, this is a very common issue. 

BPD and Family Law

In addition to problems with impulsive behaviors, you may have significant difficulties in relationships. Relationships with high levels of conflict are a core feature of BPD. Unfortunately, this means that people with BPD can become entangled in legal battles through a divorce. In addition, custody issues can arise when BPD couples separate.

Finally, domestic violence can be a serious issue in BPD relationships. Relationships can be incredibly tumultuous when you have BPD, so being aware of the potential for conflict can help you effectively communicate before issues arise. 

Teens with Legal Issues and BPD

Teenagers with BPD can run into their own set of legal problems.

BPD frequently begins to show up during adolescence, so teenagers are especially at risk of dangerous behaviors and legal troubles. 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. This can be another way that relationships with loved ones can be strained through BPD. 

Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect are potential environmental causes of BPD, even though 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 his children or to be so consumed with his own emotions that he neglects his children's care.

There are also many with BPD 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.

This does not mean that you are destined to be a bad parent if you have BPD. With proper therapy and treatments, many people with BPD are excellent, caring parents. It is just important to recognize the potential for legal issues in order to cope with BPD. 

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  to maintain a substance habit, can lead to an arrest.

If you have borderline personality disorder, intense emotions and quick reactions can be difficult to control and can lead to legal issues. To prevent ending up arrested or harming relationships with loved ones, it's important to find a therapist you trust to help you with BPD and teach you appropriate symptom management skills. 


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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