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5 Devastating Psychological Effects of Drug Addiction

Female Psychologist With Clipboard Sitting Near Young ManSubstance abuse and mental health are linked because the psychological effects of drug addiction, including alcohol, cause changes in your body and brain. A careful balance of chemicals keeps the cogs turning inside your body, and even the smallest change can cause you to experience negative symptoms. 

Excessive alcohol and drug use sends your nervous system into disarray, rewires your brain, and causes inflammation — all of which can cause mental illness. Read on to find out more about the emotional effects of substance use disorders. 

Drug Abuse Rewires Your Brain

blue and yellow brain impulse iconOne of the most profound changes that occur in people who struggle with addiction is in the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of motivation, pleasure, and reward — and alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs all hijack this pathway. If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, you’ll have noticed a shift in priorities. 

As an addicted person needs an increasing amount of their substance of choice to get the same high, they become more and more preoccupied with procuring and using substances. This is what leads to the most damaging effects of addiction. To the sufferer, friends, family, work, and being an upstanding citizen become less important than inebriation.

Often, people in addiction treatment centers are recovering from experiencing an endless cycle of guilt, emotional pain, and short-term relief from substances. This negative feedback loop can eventually lead to mental health issues and other side effects. 

Health Problems Associated with Addiction

In addition to the psychological effects of addiction, drug and alcohol abuse have the potential to lead to an array of other health conditions. Chronic substance use is a risk factor for the following illnesses:

  • Disorders that affect decision-making
  • Heart disease including high blood pressure
  • Psychosis
  • Reduced immune function
  • Stomach issues
  • Respiratory problems
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney disease

5 Psychological Effects of Drug Addiction

Dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter that affects your mood and mental state; serotonin, norepinephrine, and many more play a part. Just like addiction, mental disorders aren’t usually the result of one trigger or cause. Not everyone will experience the following, but many people do.   

1. Anxiety

Anxiety is best described as a disorder of the fight-or-flight response, where someone perceives danger that isn’t there. It includes the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive worrying
  • Sweating
  • An impending sense of doom
  • Mood swings
  • ​Restlessness and agitation
  • Tension
  • Insomnia

There are a lot of similarities between anxiety and the effects of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Conversely, using central nervous system depressants can also increase the risk of a person developing anxiety. Although they calm a person’s nerves while they’re intoxicated, they intensify anxiety when the effects wear off. 

Additionally, many addicts experience anxiety around trying to hide their habits from other people. In a lot of cases, it’s difficult to tell whether anxious people are more likely to abuse substances or if drugs and alcohol cause anxiety.

2. Shame and Guilt

There’s a stigma attached to addiction in society, and there’s a lot of guilt and shame for the individuals who struggle with the condition. Often, this is adding fuel to a fire that was already burning strong. People with substance use disorders tend to evaluate themselves negatively on a regular basis, which is a habit that has its roots in childhood experiences. Continual negative self-talk adds to feelings of shame and guilt.

When you constantly feel as if you’ve done something wrong, it’s tempting to try to cover up these challenging emotions with drugs and alcohol. These unhelpful emotions contribute to the negative feedback loop that sends people spiraling into addiction.    

3. A Negative Feedback Loop

From an outside perspective, someone with an addiction looks like they’re repeatedly making bad choices and ignoring reason. However, the truth is far more complicated and nuanced — so much so that it can be very difficult for people to overcome a substance use disorder without inpatient or outpatient treatment. This is partly due to a negative feedback loop that occurs in the mind.

When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they feel a sense of comfort they haven’t been able to get elsewhere. Inevitably, this feeling is replaced by guilt and shame as they sober up and face the consequences of their actions. However, the weight of these feelings forces them to seek comfort in substances.    

4. Depression

Another mental illness strongly associated with addiction is depression. Like anxiety, it’s not clear whether the depression or substance abuse problem comes first — but there is a clear link. The main symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Dysregulated emotion
  • Loss of interest
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Suicidal ideation

Some withdrawal symptoms overlap with the signs of depression, which can make diagnosing coexisting addiction challenging before the SUD has been treated. Most people require ongoing therapy to help them overcome depression.    

5. Loss of Interest

Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy is a key symptom of both addiction and depression, but overcoming the former makes it much easier to gain control over the latter. It’s such a destructive symptom because of how demotivating it is to feel there’s no joy in the world. Everyone has passions and interests, but getting back to finding them isn’t easy for someone with these conditions. 

Treatment programs help you unravel the reasons behind your unhealthy substance use so you can find new coping mechanisms and address any underlying issues in therapy.

Get Help for the Emotional and Psychological Effects of Drug Addiction

If you think the behavior of a loved one is a sign of a serious problem, call Recovery at the Crossroads today at 856-644-6929 for more information about the emotional effects of drugs.

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