The use of psychotropic medication in patients with emotionally unstable personality disorder under the care of UK mental health services

J Clin Psychiatry. 2015 Apr;76(4):e512-8. doi: 10.4088/JCP.14m09228.


Background: Guideline recommendations for the pharmacologic treatment of personality disorder lack consensus, particularly for emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), and there is limited information on current prescribing practice in the United Kingdom.

Objective: To characterize the nature and quality of current prescribing practice for personality disorder across the United Kingdom, as part of a quality improvement program.

Method: A cross-sectional survey of self-selected psychiatric services providing care for adults with personality disorder (ICD-10 criteria) was conducted. Data were collected during May 2012.

Results: Of 2,600 patients with a diagnosis of personality disorder, more than two-thirds (68%) had a diagnosis of EUPD. Almost all (92%) patients in the EUPD subgroup were prescribed psychotropic medication, most commonly an antidepressant or antipsychotic, principally for symptoms and behaviors that characterize EUPD, particularly affective dysregulation. Prescribing patterns were similar between those who had a diagnosed comorbid mental illness and those who had EUPD alone, but the latter group was less likely to have had their medication reviewed over the previous year, particularly with respect to tolerability (53% vs 43%).

Conclusions: The use of psychotropic medication in EUPD in the United Kingdom is largely outside the licensed indications. Whether the treatment target is identified as intrinsic symptoms of EUPD or comorbid mental illness may depend on the diagnostic threshold of individual clinicians. Compared with prescribing for EUPD where there is judged to be a comorbid mental illness, the use of off-label medication for EUPD alone is less systematically reviewed and monitored, so opportunities for learning may be lost. Treatment may be continued long term by default.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Affective Symptoms / drug therapy*
  • Affective Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data*
  • England
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • State Medicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult


  • Psychotropic Drugs