Addiction can affect your life in many ways. It can damage your health, your relationships, your career, and your finances. Perhaps the biggest impact is on your brain. Prolonged substance use changes your balance of neurotransmitters and can even change the structure of your brain. These changes affect your mood, your ability to think, and even your personality.
Here are some of the ways addiction changes your personality.
You lose interest in things you used to enjoy.
One of the primary characteristics of addiction is that it becomes the most important thing in your life and everything else gets demoted. Whether you enjoy spending time with your family, playing golf, or rebuilding motorcycles, your other interests will gradually lose ground to substance use. This damages your relationships for a number of reasons, largely because people don’t like being second to substance use. It also means instead of spending your time building relationships, mastering skills, or creating something useful, you’re just spending your time drinking or using drugs. This is unfortunate because much of our identity is determined by how we spend our free time. A person’s job might tell you something about them, but not as much as what they do for fun.
You become secretive and suspicious.
Someone with substance use issues often becomes secretive and takes more care to protect their privacy. They may become less talkative or more suspicious when people ask them questions. They may be wary others are trying to get information out of them, and may spend more time alone, choosing not to divulge where they’ve been or what they have been doing.
There are several reasons for this. First, they are often aware that their friends and family wouldn’t approve of their drinking or drug use. They might not approve of it at all or they might just think it’s excessive. This usually indicates the user, themselves, is aware on some level that they have a problem. Second, they may be using illicit substances or illegally obtaining controlled substances. They may be concerned about getting into legal trouble or getting others in trouble.
You may become depressed or anxious.
Depression and anxiety often occur along with substance use. Typically, depression and anxiety come first, and someone develops a substance use disorder from self-medicating depression and anxiety symptoms. However, addiction can also cause depression and anxiety. First, substances change the balance of your brain chemistry. For example, drinking alcohol relaxes you at first because alcohol enhances the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and diminishes the effect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. However, your brain soon adjusts for this change, producing less GABA, and more glutamate. This leads to more feelings of anxiety and agitation when you’re not drinking. A similar change happens with other substances as well.
There are other ways substance use can lead to anxiety and depression. When you’re afraid of withdrawal and you need to find some way to get drugs or alcohol every day, you may become anxious until you can actually meet that need. Also, people with substance use disorders often feel a sense of hopelessness in the face of their addictions. They see how addiction is harming them and they want to quit, but can’t. That constant feeling of hopelessness can lead to depression.
You become emotionally volatile.
Substance use often leads to emotional volatility. You may lose your temper easily or suffer from mood swings. This is often related to the anxiety and depression mentioned above. When you constantly feel anxious, you feel at some level that you are being threatened and are therefore more likely to lash out. This is especially true if you feel like someone is standing in the way of your drinking or using drugs. You feel like drugs or alcohol are basic needs that someone is denying you, so you become aggressive. Many people don’t realize that irritability and aggression are also common symptoms of depression. What that aggression seems futile, it might collapse into sadness or despair.
Brain imaging studies have also suggested that long-term substance use weaken the brain’s prefrontal cortex and it’s links to other parts of the brain, especially the reward centers that are excessively stimulated by substance use. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher functions like self-control, attention, planning, and emotional regulation. When working properly, it moderates the emotional responses generated in the older areas of the brain. However, excessive substance use weakens this area, making you vulnerable to emotional swings.
You choose different friends.
The more involved you get with substance use, the more it changes who you spend time with. You tend to push away the people who care about you and are concerned about your substance use. You also tend to spend more time with people whose substance use habits are similar to yours and people who can help you get drugs. Who you spend time with has a big impact on your values, beliefs, and behavior. Often, our friends’ attitudes influence us in ways we are not aware of. Spending time around other people who drink heavily or have other substance use issues is likely to reinforce your own bad habits.
You engage in risky behavior.
Addiction often leads to risky or unethical behavior. As noted above, studies have found that prolonged substance use impairs your prefrontal cortex, which is involved with planning, attention, emotional regulation, and self-control. It’s also involved with foresight. You’re less able to foresee the negative consequences of your actions. However, people with substance use disorders are typically too preoccupied with substance use to care. Since substance use becomes your top priority, good foresight and planning simply means getting drugs or alcohol efficiently. Since other considerations matter less, even close personal relationships, you may be indifferent to the ethical considerations involved, even perhaps stealing from loved ones so you can buy drugs. What’s more, many drugs lower inhibitions and make you willing to engage in risky behavior, such as sharing needles and unprotected sex.
Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.