There are numerous benign reasons to have the occasional drink. It can be used to ease stress and anxiety, as a means of relaxing, as a way to alleviate physical or psychological symptoms, or any number of other things. However, individuals who abuse alcohol never intend to become dependent on it. For a number of individuals, periods of frequent and high consumption of alcohol can be considered only a brief phase as is the case with many college students, but there are others whose alcoholic behaviors spiral out of their control.
Over time, they require more and more alcohol on an increasingly frequent basis, which causes the body to adjust to persistently high alcohol content in the blood by requiring alcohol for normal bodily functions. As a result, individuals who have become dependent on alcohol experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they go a period of time without drinking, which means that in order to continue to function and keep potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms at bay, the consumption of alcohol must remain a central part of their daily lives.
As part of this transformation from alcohol abuse to becoming an alcoholic, individuals tend to also display a number of personality changes. Like those who develop addictions to other chemical substances, the disease of alcoholism has a number of effects on an individual’s psychology and, in particular, his or her alcoholic personality and behavior.
It’s often said that alcoholics and drug addicts seem to have two separate personalities in a single body due to their tendency to augment their behavior and demeanor in order to control how they’re perceived by others. In short, this duality can serve a number of purposes whether to keep their alcoholic behaviors a secret or to manipulate others. However, in order to understand the “night and day” personalities of alcoholics, it’s essential to know some of the more specific effects that addiction and alcoholism have on one’s personality traits.
What Is Addiction?
The disease of alcoholism, which is a form of addiction, is complicated. However, it’s not that the disease isn’t understood, but rather the understanding only serves to increase the controversy that surrounds it: Is the disease of addiction inherited through genetics, or is it a matter of individuals making poor choices? If the development of addiction isn’t biological, is it social or cultural?
What’s more, our understanding of addiction has allowed us to see how it’s similar to other diseases with components of obsessive-compulsive disorder and impulse control disorders. As such, many of the behavioral and personality changes that are exhibited by alcoholics and addicts tend to be viewed as symptoms of the disease, which means that they occur due to the existence of dependency and would likely dissipate if the disease were to be overcome.
Does Alcoholism Change Your Personality?
Like with any substance, the frequent consumption of alcohol must be taken into account when considering demeanor and alcoholic personality traits. As many alcoholics drink consistently throughout the day and develop a high tolerance for alcohol, they often remain in a state that’s not sober, but also not significantly intoxicated. This behavior is called maintenance drinking.
When people with alcohol use disorders are in this maintenance drinking state, they may not show classic signs of intoxication. However, in those instances when they’re either exceptionally intoxicated or withdrawing, alcoholics can quickly become irritable to the point of being angry, defensive, argumentative, and withdrawn.
The onset of alcoholism has been known to coincide with a number of other, more profound personality changes as well with many manifesting in such ways as to make individuals seem to exhibit very distinct and contrasting personality traits. Individuals suffering from alcoholism are often withdrawn and alienated, but at times seem to become overtly social thrill-seekers due to the influence of alcohol.
The mindset of an alcoholic tends to alternate between feelings of guilt—especially when an alcoholic recognizes the effects he or she has had on loved ones, which tends to make individuals want to become intoxicated as a way to cope—and the feeling that one’s alcohol consumption is a necessary evil, required in order for the individual to function and, consequently, justifiable.
Additionally, alcoholics will frequently try to camouflage themselves so that others won’t recognize them as suffering from compulsive and problematic drinking behaviors, but at other times alcoholics will adopt a decidedly deviant and nonconformist attitude that causes them to desire separation from what is considered normal or wholesome.
Are There Alcoholic Personality Traits?
The term “addictive personality” or “alcoholic personality” is often used to describe people who tend to have issues saying no to things like drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s used to refer to every day, overindulgent behaviors. But are they specific personality traits associated with alcohol use disorders? There aren’t any known specific personality factors that contribute to alcoholism as pre-existing factors. In other words, you may not be able to tell if someone will develop a substance use disorder in the future based on their personality.
Alcoholism seems to affect all kinds of people, even various personality types. For instance, no specific evidence suggests that introverts are more likely than extroverts to develop an alcohol use disorder or vice versa. However, different people may drink for different reasons.
What Causes Alcoholic Personality Traits?
If there is really no such thing as an alcoholic personality, what causes the behavioral shift in people that develop an alcohol use disorder? Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that can affect your personality and how you present yourself to others. Of course, alcohol can lower your inhibitions, which means you may be bolder in social situations and more likely to take risks. It may drop your personal filter, causing you to say and do things you wouldn’t do while sober.
However, alcohol may be more likely to change your personality as you develop a substance use disorder. As you struggle to manage your addiction while you attend to your normal responsibilities, you may feel significant stress. Irritability, isolation, loss of interest in activities, anxiety, and depression are common traits seen in people with substance use disorders.
As you develop a chemical dependence on alcohol, you may struggle with withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can cause tremors, irritation, aggression, and anxiety. All of these can affect your behavior and the way people perceive your personality.
Two Sides of One Coin: the Dual Personalities of an Alcoholic
Alcoholics tend to respond to intoxication in two very different, opposing ways. Some individuals become happy and very good-natured, which can be described as obnoxious by some while being generally friendly. Individuals who react to alcohol intoxication in this way tend to become much less socially inhibited while under the influence of alcohol, being in a much more celebratory mood and able to socialize with others more easily.
However, there are also those who tend to become aggressive when they are intoxicated. At times, these individuals can even be described by others as rageful and quickly willing to confront or fight with others. Generally, when an individual assumes a certain demeanor at the onset of alcohol intoxication, the mood will remain consistent while the individual continues to drink.
Still, the stereotypical “angry drunk,” may be a sign of a co-occurring anger issue or a mental health issue. There isn’t anything inherent in alcohol that would trigger anger in people. In fact, alcohol is a depressant. While it can cause excitement while your blood alcohol level is climbing, it generally works in the body by slowing down nervous system activity. But alcohol also lowers inhibitions. Someone struggling with anger, depression, and anxiety may not be able to mask their emotions when they are drinking.
During a binge drinking episode, those who become happy when intoxicated will usually remain happy while those who become aggressive will remain aggressive until the alcohol consumption ceases and the intoxication begins to subside.
In these cases, aggressiveness or rage depends on the individual’s mood prior to the alcohol consumption and onset of intoxication or even alcohol poisoning. Moreover, the speed of consumption and amount of alcohol consumed has been suggested as factors with individuals who drink heavily and fast often becoming aggressive quickly.
The way that an alcoholic responds to alcohol intoxication—either by being overtly pleasant and jovial or with unprovoked rage—is thought to possibly be influenced by some genetic factor that causes some individuals to respond to alcohol intoxication either with aggression or giddiness. However, other factors can include experiencing elevated stress levels due to occurrences in daily life or even just prior to the onset of intoxication.
Factors That Contribute to Alcoholism
However, there are several contributing factors to substance use problems, including genetics, environment, and development. Genetics refers to your heredity and the traits you inherit from your parents and grandparents. Biology may be a significant factor in determining your risk for addiction. If your mother or father struggled with alcoholism, you may be more likely to experience it, especially if you drink excessively.
Developmental factors refer to learned behaviors as you grow. This may include your parent’s relationship to alcohol and the prevalence of alcohol in your household. Likewise, environmental factors can also contribute to substance use problems. Several developmental and environmental factors can increase your risk for substance use problems. This can include a lack of parental supervision, high alcohol availability in your neighborhood, early exposure to alcohol, and permissive school policies.
Sail Out of the Storm of Alcoholism and Into the Calm Waters of Sobriety
Alcoholism, as with any addiction, causes a number of changes to an individual’s mind and personality traits, which can render them almost unrecognizable to family members, friends, and loved ones. Moreover, being dependent on a mind-altering, chemical substance is associated with dramatic changes or shifts in personality with alcoholics and addicts sometimes acting in one way while exhibiting an entirely different demeanor at other times. However, the changes caused by alcoholism and drug addiction can be overcome through recovery.
If you or someone you love is suffering from chemical dependency and would like to learn more about treatment and rehabilitation, the Palm Beach Institute can help.