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Does Alcohol Change Your Personality?

Can alcohol change your personality? Let's discuss the effects of alcohol on mental health and personality.

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In this article

Alcohol is a potent substance that can have both short- and long-term effects on your overall health and well-being and on your mental health. But can it change your personality? According to researchers, alcohol consumption can be associated with personality changes. In this post, we’ll explore the effects of alcohol on our mental health and personality and see just how alcohol changes how we behave.

Alcohol’s impact on mental health

Alcohol is a big part of Western culture and is the most commonly used drug in the United States. It is used in celebrations and to relax after a heavy day at work. Many people see the prevalence of alcohol as evidence that it’s safe, but the reality of alcohol’s effects is rather sobering. Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing drug. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen and the WHO is clear: there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

As well as causing at least seven types of cancer, alcohol significantly affects mental health. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it impairs your cognitive functions, and can cause:

Drinking also lowers your inhibitions, leading folks to take greater risks when drinking, like having unprotected sex, driving while under the influence, and having a higher likelihood of injuries.

How does alcohol change your personality?

It’s clear alcohol has a significant impact on mental health and cognitive function, but how does it affect your personality? According to researchers, it can impact both short-term behaviors and long-term personality. High-risk drinking—defined as more than 14 drinks per week for men and seven for women—can affect the personality in several ways:

  • Decreased inhibitions, impaired cognitive function, balance, and coordination: these short-term effects happen with high-risk or binge drinking.
  • Disrupts the brain’s reward system and may cause addiction: alcohol impairs the brain’s reward system which may cause alcohol dependence and motivation to repeat a cycle of binge drinking.
  • Increases conflict: alcohol increases the risk of experiencing or participating in violence, including intimate partner violence, physical assaults, and serious injury.
  • Mood changes: alcohol can cause emotional dysregulation resulting in mood swings, increased anxiety, irritability, impulsivity, and depression.
  • Executive dysfunction: over time, alcohol can damage the frontal lobe, impacting reasoning, decision-making, social behavior, and other functions.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol initially lowers emotional pain, which may mediate feelings of stress, anxiety, and emotional pain. This is why so many people think drinking helps them cope with stress or emotional pain. However, repeated alcohol use can reduce the reward system and increase the brain’s stress systems creating alcohol dependence. Once a person stops drinking, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms, which negatively impact mood and cause a host of unpleasant symptoms. By that point, the brain is already accustomed to the calming effect of alcohol, which reinforces the motivation to pick up a drink to reduce the emotional discomfort and relieve withdrawal symptoms. This can create a cycle of binge drinking, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and preoccupation/anticipation of drinking again.

When someone is stuck in this cycle, they often experience mood swings, irritability, anxiety. This can contribute to the increase in relational conflicts. As many of us have experienced, when stuck in a cycle of addiction, the person can be consumed by the symptoms of addiction and become more socially withdrawn.

Additionally, research shows that alcohol use disorder commonly co-occurs with mental health disorders. People with alcohol use disorder also experience greater rates of mental health conditions than the general population. These include:

  • Anxiety, like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder
  • Mood disorders, like depression (major depressive disorder), and bipolar disorder
  • Stress-related disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Psychotic disorders

In fact, having pre-existing mental health conditions increases the risk of developing a problem with alcohol, as it is commonly used to self-medicate the symptoms of mental illness. Sadly, alcohol can exacerbate these problems, worsening both conditions and leading to poorer outcomes. This highlights the need when treating alcohol use disorder to co-treat any mental health conditions at the same time.

Can these personality changes go away in recovery?

Yes. Our behaviors and personality are never set in stone. Brain plasticity means that our brains can adapt and develop new neural pathways. Because of this, research shows that many of the brain changes caused by alcohol can improve and possibly reverse after just a few months in recovery. Behavioral health support can help us build healthier behaviors and coping skills, helping our brains to recover.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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