A substance use disorder can have many negative effects on your life, damaging your relationships, finances, career, and health. Perhaps most disturbing is the way substance use changes your brain. Your neurotransmitter levels change to adjust to the presence of the substance and brain imaging studies suggest the structure of your brain actually changes with prolonged substance use. These changes can have a significant effect on your behavior and personality, including the following.
One common way substance use disorders affect personality is to make people more secretive. There are several reasons for this. One is that many substances are illegal and so it’s not a great idea to be too open about using them. Another is that at some level, people know that substance use is becoming a problem. They don’t want their loved ones to know how much they’re using, or that they’re using at all. This tends to make people more cautious in general. If you’re preoccupied with a substance, as often happens in addiction, there’s always a risk you might let something slip. As a result, it’s often easier to just not reveal much of what you’ve been doing. This can lead to suspicion and mistrust and strain relationships.
Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of addiction is that substance use becomes your top priority. That means everything else gets bumped down. That includes friends, family, work, and other interests. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but among them is that our interests, hobbies, and other things we do for fun are often central to our identities. While a job might just be a job, how you choose to spend your free time is a lot more about who you are. If you used to spend your free time rock climbing but now you spend all your free time drinking, that’s going to have a significant impact on your identity and quality of life. You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy for another reason too. Addiction can cause or worsen depression, a major symptom of which is loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. Depression alone can have as much impact on your personality as addiction.
Depression or anxiety
Addiction can often cause or worsen depression, anxiety, or both. Depression and anxiety are common co-occurring conditions with substance use disorders. They often precede addiction, but studies have also found they can be a result of addiction. Substance use changes brain chemistry, often leading to rebound effects and poor emotional regulation. Alcohol, for example, can temporarily reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, but when your blood alcohol level starts to drop, your symptoms typically come back even worse than before, so that you have to drink just to feel normal. People with substance use disorders often feel trapped by their addictive behavior, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The shame people with substance use disorders often feel can lead to depression, while the fear of withdrawal can lead to anxiety.
Addiction can lead to behavior that many people would not have thought themselves capable of. This happens for a variety of reasons. Since substance use becomes the top priority, ethical concerns may be swept aside when someone with a substance use disorder is trying to get drugs or alcohol. They may borrow money, steal money, or steal items to sell for drugs. This kind of behavior would typically be unthinkable if not for the addiction. Many substances can also affect your judgment in various ways. Alcohol is probably the most common example. People make all kinds of terrible decisions when they’re drinking and if you drink all the time, you will make more terrible decisions. Other drugs, like cocaine or methamphetamine can lead to reckless behavior because of overconfidence or paranoia. Methamphetamine, in particular, can lead to risky sex and greater risk of contracting an infection.
As noted above, substance use throws your brain out of balance. Using cocaine, for example, massively increases the dopamine in certain parts of your brain and most people feel let down when the drug leaves their system. Alcohol can relieve anxiety temporarily, but then your brain overcorrects and it comes back worse than before. As a result, your mood largely depends on the level of substances in your system. You might feel calm for a while, then a couple hours later become irritable and aggressive. These swings are often more dramatic than you would normally experience. Some brain imaging studies have shown that prolonged substance use can shrink areas of the prefrontal cortex that are responsible for emotional regulation. As a result, not only do you have to deal with shifting levels of neurotransmitters, but also a reduced ability to regulate emotions.
Changes in friends
Substance use often results in changing friend groups. You may alienate your old friends and gravitate toward people whose habits are similar to your own. People often feel less bad about their substance use if they have friends whose use is as bad or worse than their own. Being around different people will have an effect on your behavior and personality. We often unconsciously adopt the opinions, habits, and expectations of the people we spend most of our time with.
In addition to the changes caused by substance use disorders in general, there are many personality changes that are specific to certain drugs. Cocaine, for example, often makes people more aggressive and paranoid, and these effects may persist even after quitting. Prolonged marijuana use may lead to lethargy, poor concentration, and poor memory.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.