Borderline Intellectual Functioning and Addiction Treatment

Over the past decade, there have been great strides made in public support and services for people living with intellectual disabilities. But one group of people struggling with intellectual challenges is persistently overlooked: those with borderline intellectual functioning. When accompanied with co-occurring drug addiction, borderline intellectual function can require dedicated dual diagnosis treatment that addresses the full scope of your loved one’s needs.

The Boundaries of Intelligence


Borderline intellectual functioning does not have a symptoms list. It doesn’t have marked emotional or behavioral patterns and it isn’t diagnosed via mood inventories. Instead, borderline intellectual functioning is a specific, narrow IQ band ranging from 71 to 84. As such, it sits in the space between “normal” and intellectually disabled, a kind of intellectual no man’s land; too smart for specialized educational services and social benefits, yet not cognitively equipped for typical function.

People with borderline intellectual functioning often have difficulties with learning, planning, reasoning, abstract thinking, and judgment. They also often have experiences of being ostracized, bullied, and ridiculed from an early age. They suffer academically, are often considered to be “slow,” and may struggle to find meaningful work that pays a living wage, leaving them in poverty or dependent on financial caretakers to make up for their lack of earning power. While borderline intellectual functioning may not be a mental illness in itself, the daily lives of many people with this type of cognitive function often result in profound emotional suffering that may lead to the emergence of depression or anxiety.

Borderline Intellectual Functioning and Addiction


The relationship between borderline intellectual functioning and addiction is complex and multifaceted. For many, drugs become an attractive escape from a world full of rejection, adversity, and emotional pain. For others, drugs become a way of fitting in, and form the nucleus of their social network with peers. Due to inhibited reasoning, judgment, and abstract thinking skills, people with this type of intellectual disability may not appreciate the full danger of drugs, engage in harm-reduction strategies, or limit use. With the emotional impetus for drug taking firmly in place and without cognitive protections, addiction is an unsurprising result.

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Dual Diagnosis Treatment


Unfortunately, there are few services available to address borderline intellectual functioning itself, as people with this condition are typically above the threshold for specialized services. However, there are private psychiatric services available that can help strengthen cognitive skills while simultaneously providing the psychological support necessary to cope with the distress that often accompanies borderline intellectual functioning. When addiction has entered the picture, however, dual diagnosis treatment offers the best option for recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatment is designed to provide simultaneous treatment for mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders based on the philosophy that the roots of both must be addressed together for recovery to truly begin. An excellent dual diagnosis treatment program will create a personalized treatment plan in accordance with each person’s unique needs, ensuring that they are supported and nurtured in a way that makes sense for them. These treatment plans typically include the following therapeutic modalities:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

All therapies can be modified to the abilities of each client to ensure that everyone can derive full benefit from each modality. Pharmacological treatments may also be used to address co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Dual diagnosis treatment is not designed to raise someone’s IQ. What it does do, however, is give your loved one the ability to understand their experience and emotions and connect them with their drug use. By working with a team of compassionate clinicians who understand struggles of people with borderline intellectual functioning and addiction, your family member can gain the insight they need to understand the roots of their distress and how that distress relates to their addiction. Simultaneously, they will develop real strategies to cope with stressors and enhance their quality of life in a way that lets them move forward without the use of harmful substances. Within a warm, nonjudgmental environment that honors your loved one’s strengths and supports them through their weaknesses, they can engage in a process of profound personal transformation and growth.

For many, dedicated family programs are instrumental to the healing process. Family support is known to be a significant factor in recovery, but often emotional distress and drug addiction have damaged those invaluable interpersonal relationships. With the support of clinicians who understand the complex dynamics that so often affect the families of addicts, you can learn how to nurture each other and yourselves and begin to heal together.

If you would like more information about drug addiction and borderline intellectual functioning, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help your loved one find the help they need to create true and lasting recovery.