Personality Changes and Addiction

Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. It is an insidious disease, taking hold slowly and making chemical and neuro-pathway changes in the brain, often before the user realizes that drugs or alcohol have gained the upper hand. Those chemical alterations also have a drastic impact on personality, often bringing about behavior completely out of the norm for that person.

Out-of-control emotions and lack of impulse control can complicate life with an addict, and the behavior may damage relationships and affect everyone involved. Even mild mannered people can act in ways totally out of character and the changes can be so drastic that the person seems almost unrecognizable to family and friends.

Personality changes go hand-in-hand with addiction, and if a friend or family member is addicted, this likely comes as no surprise. You may have noticed that the addicted person:

  • is secretive and dishonest.
  • no longer enjoys spending time with family and friends; becomes isolated, or prefers to spend time with a new group of friends who also use.
  • no longer finds pleasure in normally enjoyable hobbies or activities.
  • is manipulative, controlling or unreasonable.
  • is forgetful or unreliable; has difficulty managing day-to-day activities; procrastinates or has trouble following through with commitments.
  • tends to avoid responsibility and instead, blames others for the problems caused by substance abuse.
  • becomes angry and irritable quickly, especially when the substance is not available.
  • goes into fits of rage, is physically violent only to show remorse after that followed by a promise that this will never happen again - but it will, in ever shorter intervals
  • minimizes problems caused by substance abuse and becomes defensive and angry if family and friends attempt to discuss the problem.

In some cases, specific substances bring about personality changes unique to that substance. For example, meth users display drastic personality changes. People who were typically easy-going can change rapidly, becoming angry, irritable and self-centered, or they may be extremely talkative and unable to sit still. Meth users tend to be anti-social and unable to feel empathy for other people.
Cocaine users may have frequent mood swings, rapidly cycling between depression and mania. They may be lethargic and depressed, or irritable and arrogant. Crack cocaine causes even more extreme personality changes, including extreme energy, impulsivity, overconfidence, recklessness and grandiosity. In some cases, crack cocaine users may be delusional and as stated above, physically violent, unable to stop themselves when in a rage.

The changes brought about by heroin addiction can be drastic, and normally upbeat, animated people become lethargic and unmotivated, while people who are normally relaxed and easy going may display hostility and selfishness.

People who are addicted to alcohol often display reduced inhibitions, and often drink to feel more relaxed in social situations. Alcoholics may become angry, outspoken and argumentative, often violent against persons neat to them, things or pets.

Many people don’t think marijuana is addictive, but people who are dependent on marijuana display certain unmistakable personality changes. They may be lethargic, forgetful, irresponsible or mildly depressed. They may experience severe and often irreversible memory problems, difficulties to study and retain new information. Some are permanently delusional.

If a loved one or friend displays personality changes brought out by substance abuse or addiction, it’s important to realize that the person is in the grips of a disease and is no longer in control. Encourage the person to seek treatment as soon as possible because without help, the disease will get worse.
If your friend or family member refuses to seek treatment, it may be time to consider an intervention, which involves making a plan with family and close friends. With the help of a trained professional, an intervention may motivate a person to seek treatment. Don’t attempt to stage an intervention by yourself, as a poorly planned intervention may cause the subject of the intervention to feel angry or betrayed, which can make matters much worse.

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