What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) is a mental illness in which a person exhibits a long-term pattern of isolation, timidity, and extreme sensitivity to rejection. An individual with this syndrome is so afraid of loss that he or she avoids or holds back in social situations and relationships. If you or someone you care about seems consumed with overwhelming fears and social ineptness, learn about this condition and treatment options with our caring professionals at 1st Step Behavioral Health in South Florida.

Many people experience a degree of angst when faced with new situations and strangers. It is human nature to avoid criticism and embarrassment whenever possible. When people become so anxious and isolated that they cannot live normally, enjoy relationships, or succeed at work, their emotional state may have deteriorated into mental illness.

About 2.4% of the US population lives with AVPD, which affects men and women equally. Many of these people also experience other psychiatric conditions such as social phobia and schizoid disorder. Individuals with avoidant personality disorder and another mental illness tend to have more severe symptoms and dysfunction than those with only one disorder.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Signs and Symptoms

Mental health professionals can offer a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder. Clinicians look for a long-standing pattern of avoiding social contact, feeling inadequate, and hypersensitivity to rejection, criticism, or humiliation. These behaviors can be confirmed by the presence of at least four of these signs and symptoms listed in the DSM-5:

  • Lack of close friends
  • Extremely hurt by disapproval
  • Self-image of inferiority, social awkwardness
  • Reluctance to engage in new activities for fear of embarrassment, inadequacy
  • Hesitance to connect with others unless assured of acceptance
  • Preoccupation with being rejected or criticized in the workplace or social situations
  • Excessive reservedness in intimate relationships for fear of rejection
  • Overinflating potential difficulties with relating to others

Common AVPD Behaviors

Although many people with avoidant personality disorder tend to isolate themselves from others, they often long for close relationships. However, these individuals are constantly plagued with irrational thoughts of being brushed off or not measuring up to others’ expectations or abilities. The persistent deluge of these thoughts can emotionally paralyze a person with dread.

People with avoidant personality behavior become convinced that social interactions will yield negative consequences for them, so they go to extremes to avoid any scenario that requires close interpersonal contact or scrutiny from others. Thus, these individuals may forgo work, school, or romantic opportunities in an effort to protect themselves from imagined failure.

Examples of AVPD behavior include:

  • Refusal to apply for a job due to fear of ruining the interview
  • Opting out of going to college for fear of living with strangers in a dorm
  • Missing meetings for fear of speaking in front of people and being rejected
  • Disengaging from close relatives and acquaintances

Close family and associates often find it difficult to communicate with a loved one who has AVPD. To them, the person with this disease seems emotionally distant. However, the individual is typically unable to connect with others and share their feelings due to inordinate fears of being ridiculed or rejected.

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Phobia

AdVPD and social phobia often occur together, but they have subtle differences. Social phobia is typically situational in nature while AVPD is more pervasive in displays of anxiety and avoidance. Sometimes, though, a social phobia may manifest in a broader pattern of avoidance, which makes it more difficult to distinguish from AVPD.

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Schizoid Personality Disorder

Social isolation is a marker in both AVPD and schizoid personality disorder. People with AVPD tend to withdraw from people and situations because of irrational fears of rejection by others. On the other hand, those with schizoid personality disorder isolate themselves due to disinterest in others.

The Onset of Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant behavior typically begins in infancy or early childhood, marked by bashfulness and avoidance of unfamiliar people or places. While many people outgrow this shyness, those who develop AVPD become increasingly shy in adolescence and adulthood. Eventually, family and friends label these individuals as loners. However, the behavior of those with AVPD deeply affects the ability to interact and function in school, work, and other social settings.

The exact causes of avoidant personality disorder have not yet been identified. Most mental health experts believe that the illness derives from an interplay of genetic, biological, social, and psychological factors. Some research suggests that some people with the syndrome could pass it down to their children.

AVPD often diminishes with age. Few individuals experience its most severe symptoms by their 40s or 50s. This trend does not undermine the importance of seeking professional care, to which such personality disorders respond favorably. Furthermore, expert treatment can help uncover and deal with other underlying issues.

Avoidant Personality Disorder and Dual Diagnosis

People with AVPD commonly turn to alcohol or drugs for “courage” to deal with social situations. They may go straight to the bar for a drink at a party, take drugs before entering a crowded room, or even use these substances before leaving home for errands. This pattern can easily lead to addiction.

In some cases, substance use disorder may contribute to the development of AVPD. Shame, guilt, and fear of criticism all conspire to shut a person off from others who care about them. This exacerbates feelings of loneliness and emptiness that these individuals attempt to assuage with more substance use.

Up to 10 million Americans live with co-occurring mental illness and addiction. Most do not receive any treatment, and others receive treatment for one or the other issue. However, an effective rehabilitation program integrates therapies for concurrent SUD and psychiatric disorders such as APVD. 1st Step Behavioral Health in South Florida is one of the few mental health and drug rehab centers with programs that specialize in treating dual diagnosis.

Does My Loved One Need Intervention for AVPD in South Florida?

Individuals with AVPD rarely experience self-induced recovery. Having spent so much time avoiding others, they can’t simply open up and release their deeply ingrained fears. These people need professional assistance to establish new thought patterns and cultivate healthy interpersonal skills. Those whose minds are affected by SUD especially need help to heal their bodies and minds of damage from substance misuse as well.

Since people with this illness are constantly guarding themselves against seemingly critical statements, the idea of treatment or rehabilitation might make them even more defensive or irate. They might resist talking to a stranger about their issues, too. A well-orchestrated intervention may be necessary to alert a loved one to the gravity of their condition in a respectful manner.

An intervention brings together family and friends of a mentally ill person for lovingly yet firmly discussing the effects of the ill person’s condition and behavior. This group usually issues an ultimatum to obtain help. Ideally, these concerned people will hire a professional interventionist with experience in planning this highly sensitive effort.

An interventionist is trained to help families and close associates understand how addiction and mental disorders change the person they care about. This knowledge equips the concerned ones to deal with the individual with unified but non-confrontational compassion and understanding. Research shows that over 90% of professional-led interventions may result in commitments to seek treatment. 

Consider these questions if you are considering an intervention for someone you know with AVPD:

  • Has the person been using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings of sadness, despair, or worthlessness for two or more weeks?
  • Have they tried to hurt or kill themselves recently?
  • Are they involved in activities that used to be unthinkable, such as lying, risky sex, or stealing?
  • Have they been trying to stop using substances without success?
  • Have I tried to talk them into treatment without success?

If you answer “yes” to several of these questions, reach out for guidance on staging an intervention.

How Does 1st Step Behavioral Health Treat Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Here at 1st Step Behavioral Health in Delray Beach, FL, we help people with co-occurring AVPD and SUD understand the nature of addiction how it fuels the symptoms of mental illness. We equip them with the skills to attain and maintain sobriety long after treatment in our facility. A study published in The American Journal on Addictions reported that professional therapy helps people with personality disorders significantly reduce their substance use.

Our caring, dedicated team employs a variety of psychotherapy techniques to treat avoidant personality disorder in South Florida. Psychotherapy, known as “talk therapy”, is backed by extensive research as an effective treatment for behavioral illnesses such as AVPD. Individuals at our center will participate in individual and group therapies that focus on social skills. In some cases, drug therapy may be prescribed for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Take the Next Step Toward Recovery from AVPD at 1st Step Behavioral Health

If you recognize the symptoms of AVPD in yourself or a loved one, asking for help is the bravest thing you could do. Believe it or not, more people wrestle with negative thought patterns and traumatic experiences than you may realize. Be proud that you desire a better life for yourself or someone close to you because you deserve it.

Let us empower you to break free of self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors. You’ll soon discover that a new, rich life with people who love and support you is within reach. Leave the cycle of addiction and AVPD behind at 1st Step Behavioral Health in South Florida; call us today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.