Developmental trajectories of self-injurious behavior, suicidal behavior and substance misuse and their association with adolescent borderline personality pathology.


Objective: Adolescent risk-taking and self-harm behaviors are associated with affect dysregulation and impulsivity, both core features of borderline personality disorder (BPD). We hypothesized that the developmental courses of these behaviors i) tend to cluster rather than appear individually, and ii) might indicate adolescent BPD pathology. Therefore, we explored the developmental trajectories of self-injurious behavior (SIB), suicidal behavior (SB) and substance misuse (SM) in a community sample of adolescents; and we investigated the trajectories’ overlap and its associations with BPD traits. Method: 513 adolescents, aged 15-17 years, were followed for two years as part of the Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe study and its subsequent follow-up. Distinct developmental trajectories were explored using general growth mixture modeling. Results: Three distinct classes were identified within each of the harmful behaviors SIB, SB and SM. Both the high-risk SIB trajectory and the high-risk SB trajectory demonstrated elevated initial degree of engagement, followed by a gradual decrease. The SM high-risk trajectory had a medium initial degree of engagement, which increased over time. There was a high degree of overlap (80-90%) among the high-risk trajectories for the three behaviors (SIB, SB and SM), and this overlap was significantly associated with elevated levels of BPD pathology. Limitations: The data collection was based on participants’ self-report. Conclusion: The findings indicate a similar pattern of reduction over time between SIB and SB for the high-risk trajectories, whereas the high-risk trajectories for SM show a pattern of increase over time. The observed symptom shift is associated with borderline personality pathology in adolescents. Therefore these behaviors might represent early indicators of risk supporting potential early detection.