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Mental Effects of Addiction: More Than Meets The Eye

Mental Effects of Addiction: More Than Meets The Eye

Unlike the seen physical effects of addiction, the mental effects of addiction are harder to identify. The mental effects of addiction include things like emotional, memory, and behavioral changes. To make things harder, many drug and alcohol users have mental health issues prior to their substance use and addiction. To what extent does addiction cause these mental health effects?

Mental effects of addiction

Drugs and alcohol have potent effects on the brain and body. Despite their known adverse effects, people who are addicted cannot just stop at the snap of a finger. Addictive substances play upon several areas of the brain that control feelings of pleasure and pain.

Substances become addictive because they light up the reward system of the brain, which makes us crave and seek out the next “high.” The longer someone uses a substance or the higher dose they take, the more the body becomes dependent.

When is Something an Addiction? Know the Warning Signs

Emotional effects

Firstly, the emotional effects of addiction can affect both the user and those around them. These may be subtle at first, but can become more unstable over time. The brain is responsible for how we interpret and react to certain situations.

Even in healthy individuals without addiction or substance dependency, emotions can fluctuate. This is especially true after traumatic or stressful events and due to hormonal changes. For example, a father who is usually calm and rational can become the opposite if he feels that his children are in danger. He may feel angry or upset, and these emotions are justified by the situation.

However, the emotional response of someone with an addiction may not be the same. Substance addiction can cause dramatic mood swings. Depressants can cause a decreased affect or aloofness when someone is presented with normally stressful situations. Alternatively, stimulant substances may cause excessive emotional responses. They may be quick to anger or cry easily after a harmless joke.

Cognitive function

In relation to emotional effects, both short and long-term addiction can cause a decline in cognitive function. The areas of the brain that control emotions are also responsible to processing and storing old and new memories. This is why it is easier for us to remember certain events when they have a strong emotional impact.

However, because substances alter how the brain normally works, memories may not be accurately saved or recalled. Worse yet, certain substances can actually damage brain cells and function.

For example, alcohol has an inhibitory effect on the brain. In addition, toxic byproducts of alcohol breakdown can build up and kill brain cells. These lead to the well-known effects such as difficulty standing or walking, slurred speech, and the dreaded hangover. Other effects include “blacking out” or waking up the next day not remembering what happened.

Occasional use can cause these signs and symptoms temporarily. However, chronic and heavy use can cause permanent brain damage.

Behavioral changes

Lastly, are the behavioral changes brought about by addiction. Changes in a person’s behavior is one of the major signs that friends and family members will notice first. People with addictions are sometimes seen as “a completely different person,” and not usually in the best way.

For example, a high-performing student that turns to cigarettes in order to cope with stress may seem normal at first. However, they may become more secretive to hide their substance use. Over time, they may become on edge or irritable at family gatherings where they cannot step away in order to smoke. If their friends do not smoke and try to stop them from smoking, they may stop spending time with them or find friends that also smoke.

mental effects of addiction

In combination of the emotional and cognitive effects of addiction, a person’s behavior may seem “off.” Someone who is usually thoughtful and sweet may become forgetful and callous. Someone with an addiction may become less responsible and impulsive.

Key takeaways

In summary, there are several ways addiction can alter our mental health. Some of these changes are temporary and short-lived while others are permanent. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, talk to a doctor or mental health expert for help.

Learn more about Addiction here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Feb 08