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Can Drinking Too Much Alcohol Change One’s Personality?

Eric Patterson, LPCEmily Guarnotta, PsyD
Published on April 21, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Drinking any amount of alcohol can change the way you think, act, and feel.

  • Drinking a lot of alcohol for a long period of time can affect your mood, your relationships, and your priorities.

  • Alcohol may not fully change your personality on its own. But it can make you seem like a different person to yourself and your loved ones.

Empty beer bottles on a table. Blurry person in background.
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Drinking alcohol affects you in many ways. When you drink, the alcohol changes the way your brain and body function. It also influences your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. But can alcohol change your personality?

Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between personality and alcohol. 

How does alcohol affect your body and brain?

When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed by your stomach and intestines before being passed into your bloodstream. Once in the blood, it quickly travels throughout your body and brain. 

Within a few minutes after drinking, alcohol begins to change your brain functioning. It affects the way you think, feel, and act.

Drinking responsibly may create desired effects like pleasure, relaxation, and greater confidence. If you drink too much or too quickly, though, you could start to experience a wider range of effects like:

  • Impaired judgment

  • Lower inhibitions

  • Poor reaction time, coordination, and balance

  • Slurred speech

You could have an accident, fall, or get in a fight. The next day, hangover symptoms could make your normal routine a challenge.

Does alcohol affect your mental health?

Alcohol and mental health conditions share a two-way relationship. People may develop mental health problems because of their alcohol use. And people may turn to alcohol to cope with their mental health symptoms. 

It’s hard to say that one causes the other. But there is a strong connection. As many as 25% of people with a mental health disorder have issues with substances. Of people who seek help for their alcohol problems, about 80% will complain of psychiatric issues.

When you drink, alcohol disrupts your brain chemicals. It feels rewarding in the moment. But it leads to problems later. 

Can drinking cause mental health symptoms like mood swings or anger?

Drinking alcohol can cause a variety of mental health symptoms to appear or to get worse. Because of alcohol, you could notice:

  • Depression with mood changes, irritability, and an increased risk of suicide

  • Anxiety with worry, physical tension, and fearfulness

  • Psychotic symptoms that trigger hallucinations and delusional thinking

  • Antisocial behaviors, like being impulsive, dishonest, and hostile

Alcohol is constantly affecting your mood. These symptoms can show up while you’re drinking or during alcohol withdrawal. 

Why does drinking alcohol make me mean to others?

Conflicts with strangers or loved ones are common when drinking alcohol. Alcohol increases irritability and decreases inhibitions. With this combination, there is a chance you could be more mean or aggressive toward others.  

Alcohol clouds your judgment and leads to communication problems. This is especially true if the other person is also under the influence. You could misunderstand a statement someone makes. Or, you could misread the situation happening around you. 

Because your inhibitions are lower from alcohol, you might say something you don’t really mean and react impulsively. Just like with your moods, alcohol is always affecting your behaviors.

Can alcohol make mental illness worse?

Alcohol will never help a mental illness. You or someone you know may have depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health condition. Alcohol always makes these conditions worse in the long-term.

If you have a mental health condition, you may turn to alcohol as an unhealthy coping skill. But alcohol should be avoided. Alcohol will worsen your mental health condition by:

  • Disrupting your normal brain chemistry

  • Increasing stress and conflict

  • Shifting your attention away from healthy coping skills

  • Covering up the true symptoms, so you can’t address them

Alcohol can also negatively interact with certain medications. It can make the prescriptions you take to manage your mental health ineffective or cause dangerous reactions.

What’s the connection between alcohol and your personality?

Mental states — like mood, irritability, and anxiety — shift and change constantly. On the other hand, your personality is a mostly stable and consistent set of factors that changes little over the years. You know that alcohol changes your mental state. But can it change your personality?

Experts measure personality across five different traits

  1. Extraversion: socially outgoing, or private and reserved

  2. Agreeableness: agreeable, or more defiant and skeptical

  3. Conscientiousness: being motivated and hard-working, or taking shortcuts

  4. Emotional stability: sometimes called neuroticism; having stable emotions or frequent changes

  5. Openness: willingness to try new things, or being more reluctant

Research shows that there is a strong connection between personality traits and alcohol. People with certain personality patterns are more likely to drink. People who drink are also more likely to have certain personalities. 

If you have ​​low agreeableness, low conscientiousness, and poor emotional stability — numbers 2, 3, and 4 in the list above — you tend to drink more. Plus, you will have more negative outcomes from drinking.

As you might expect, drinking further exaggerates those traits.

Can drinking change your personality?

Before you drink, you could be an introverted, conscientious, and stable person. After you drink, these characteristics could flip. You could seem like a different person. 

Luckily, many effects of alcohol on your personality fade after you recover from drinking. But, with enough time, alcohol can form changes that impact your personality in lasting ways.

Heavy and chronic alcohol consumption is linked to:

  • Cognitive decline

  • Cardiovascular problems

  • Metabolic dysfunction

  • Gastrointestinal problems

Each of these conditions are related to an increased risk of personality changes. The exact ways it changes a person’s personality will depend on the individual and their personality features.

Can you undo the personality changes caused by alcohol in the long-term?

Fortunately, even long-term personality changes linked to alcohol can be undone. Especially if you are younger, your personality traits can be restored. 

The same may not be true for people in middle and late adulthood. Even if you stop drinking later in life, you may be unable to reverse the personality changes. The physical problems and the duration of the changes may cover up your original personality patterns.

That’s not to say that stopping is meaningless, though. The sooner you quit drinking alcohol, the sooner you stop the progression of problems.

Can the effects of alcohol on the mind lead to a personality disorder?

Personality disorders and alcohol share a powerful connection. The link is strongest between alcohol and antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.

You cannot say that alcohol causes a personality disorder, though. The connection is probably due to risk factors that the two issues share.

What should I do if alcohol makes me or someone I love violent?

Some people might try to change the effects of alcohol by drinking wine instead of whiskey or only drinking on the weekends. In reality, you cannot control many of the effects of alcohol. If alcohol makes you or someone you love violent, angry, or very depressed, alcohol should probably be avoided. 

Having a drink is never worth the risk of hurting someone or hurting yourself. Instead, consider exploring healthy and positive ways to cope with stress like:

  • Going for a walk

  • Eating a healthy meal

  • Spending sober time with friends

  • Listening to music or watching a favorite movie

The chances of negative outcomes from these coping skills is extremely low, which makes them healthy choices. If you are seeing problems from your drinking, try to quit and call on professionals for additional assistance.

The bottom line

Alcohol changes the way you think, act, and feel. Given enough time and consistency, it can create lasting changes to your mental and physical health. In the end, drinking alcohol can make you seem like another person as it brings undesirable qualities to the surface. The best way to avoid this problem is to manage your drinking or avoid it altogether if moderation isn’t possible.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance use, help is available. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to learn about resources in your area.

References

Australian Government: Department of Health. (2021). What are the effects of alcohol? 

BetterHealth Channel. (2020). How alcohol affects your body.

View All References (6)

Gerhard, G., et al. (2020). Are changes in personality traits and alcohol use associated? A cohort study among young swiss men. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 

Luchetti, M., et al. (2018). Alcohol use and personality change in middle and older adulthood: Findings from the Health and Retirement Study. Journal of Personality.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders

The Scripps Research Institute. (2002). The effects of alcohol on the brain.

Shivani, R., et al. (2002). Alcoholism and psychiatric disorders. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Highlights for the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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