Is There a Diabetic Personality Disorder?
Sometimes people wonder if diabetic personality disorder exists because the blood sugar swings of diabetes can affect emotions. If you have been worried about this, you can cross it off your list of diabetes-related anxieties. Diabetes personality disorders don’t exist, nor is there such a thing as a “diabetic personality.”
Diabetes Personality Disorder or Diabetes and Personality Changes?
Diabetes personality disorders aren’t real; there is no official medical or psychiatric diagnosis of such a disorder. Diabetes can, however, cause temporary changes in personality. Specifically, blood sugar swings affect mood and personality.
Blood sugar is difficult to control, and in times when it’s poorly controlled, the swings between hyper- and hypoglycemia (high and low blog sugar) cause multiple problems, including temporary changes in personality and mood ("Diabetes and Psychosis: Can Diabetes Cause Psychosis?"). Research studies have shown that uncontrolled blood sugar affects both children and adults.
Type 1 diabetes personality changes in children include:
- Difficulties paying attention
- Social withdrawal
Adults, too, can experience personality changes due to blood sugar swings:
- Increased emotionality
- Mood swings (see "Does Diabetes Cause Mood Swings?")
- Depression-like symptoms
- Difficulties in interacting with others
- Short-tempered, demanding
Some of these traits overlap with borderline personality disorder, a disorder involving interpersonal and intrapersonal struggles. Despite a handful of shared symptoms, diabetic personality changes and borderline personality disorder are not linked to each other. As a personality disorder, borderline involves a pervasive pattern of interactions, emotions, and thinking that is highly disruptive to life. Diabetes is a medical illness, and personality changes occur because of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. When blood sugar is stabilized, the changes disappear.
Personality changes are temporary effects of diabetes. Another, permanent, aspect of personality is significant in diabetes: personality traits.
Diabetic Personality Traits
Personality traits are long-standing characteristics. They’re aspects of personality that affect how someone sees the world and their position in it. Personality traits drive behavior and affect emotions and thoughts as well. Just as there isn’t a diabetic personality disorder, there aren’t diabetic personality traits. Personality traits apply to everyone and are independent of illness. That said, someone’s personality traits can affect the way they manage their diabetes.
The idea of personality traits affecting diabetes was originally developed in the 1930s, and researchers have been exploring it ever since. The widely accepted model of personality traits most often used when studying things like diabetes is known as the Big Five. Five broad categories capture universal personality characteristics.
Each one of us has all five traits as well as traits in the sub-categories. We all have them in different proportions, and our unique expression of the Big Five affects how we live our lives. In diabetes, personality traits impact how someone accepts, treats and manages their diabetes.
The Big Five personality traits include extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Researchers have observed that three traits in particular influence how someone lives with diabetes:
When someone is high in the personality trait conscientiousness, they’re more likely to comply with treatment guidelines, monitor their blood sugar, and do what it takes to keep blood sugar in the healthy range. Extraversion makes people willing to reach out to form support networks and attend appointments with their diabetes care team.
Neuroticism, on the other hand, involves anxiety and other negative emotions. The higher someone is in this trait, the more difficult diabetes treatment and management become and they’re more likely than others to have poor glycemic control.
There is indeed a relationship between diabetes and personality. You can use personality changes and traits to help with diabetes management, especially glucose control. Diabetes personality disorders don’t exist, so you don’t have to worry that this illness is changing who you are at your core.
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Is There a Diabetic Personality Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/is-there-a-diabetic-personality-disorder