Issue #70, 1/18/2007
Drug-Induced Personality Change
Family Court Philosopher
Do you remember Otis? He was the affable drunk on The Andy Griffith Show who was courteous enough to report to the police station every night and lock himself into his own holding cell. Otis reinforced the public image of drunks as likeable, funny people.
Today, we would call Otis a "substance abuser," and we would recognize that his behavior is destructive, not funny. Yes, people become goofy when drunk, but they can also become violent and can sabotage themselves in remarkably insane ways that they wouldn't even think of when sober. Even when they are sober, their personality changes. It isn't just a matter of experiencing a temporary insanity when they are intoxicated. They also experience a different kind of insanity when they are not.
Drug abuse has two kinds of psychological effects. One is the brain dysfunction that occurs directly as a result of the drugs themselves. When people are "on" drugs or "coming down" from drugs, they can do some crazy things because the drug interferes with their thinking processes and impulse control. Jeremy Strohmeyer, who molested and murdered a 7-year-old girl in a casino restroom in 1997, was said to have been high on meth at the time. No matter how depraved an individual may be, they just aren't going to do something this stupid when they're not high.
I call these the "chemical" effects of the drug. This is the physical influence that the drug has on the brain and on resulting behavior. Different drugs tend to have different behavioral effects. Cocaine and meth tend to make you paranoid, while booze and pot tend to make you goofy. Jeremy Strohmeyer probably wouldn't have killed the girl if he had been smoking pot, but he might have bored her to death with folk songs.
There are a whole different set of psychological effects when the abuser is not high. I call these the "existential" effects. These are the various excuses, justifications, evasions and denials that the abuser uses to support his disease. They are pretty much the same regardless of the substance you are addicted to, be it meth, pot, cigarettes, caffeine or romance novels.
The drug has a physical hold on the brain, but it is in the nature of the addict to invent a reason for his drug use other than addiction. Take something as simple as caffeine. Million of people drink coffee every day because their brains are addicted to the caffeine it contains. Do they see themselves as addicts? No, because they have built this whole elaborate ritual around it. They don't just pop a caffeine pill every day. They go to Starbucks and get a $4 latte. It easier to ignore your addiction and accept no fault for it when you have surrounded it with so much culture.
If you try to cut a coffee drinker off from his morning fix, he's going to lash out at you. It is not that he is addicted, in his view, but you are interfering with his culture and his "morning ritual."
The people who become addicts have a certain personality to begin with. They tend to be more at the "feeling" end of the spectrum rather than the "thinking" end. The fact that they became addicted indicates that they are the sort of folks who will let feelings take them over, even when facts tell them something different. "Feeling" people are very emotional but don't usually perceive their emotion as coming from inside them. In their view, everything they feel can be explained by events in the outside world.
The hunger for drugs is an emotion that just "happens." It is chemically based within the brain, and there is no real reason for it in the outside world. Nonetheless, the addict is going to look for a reason. If he feels the urge to drink, it can't be something inside him that is generating the urge. Instead, he thinks he is drinking in response to something that happened to him, like some stress or injustice. His wife drove him to drink, or he is drinking because he had a bad day at the office. There always has to be an excuse, because if there isn't one, then he has to accept his own internal blame and responsibility.
These excuses can grow upon each other and reinforce each other until ones entire personality changes. Someone who you once trusted can become a total shitheal when addicted. They will steal, lie and betray their friends to support their habit and be totally unapologetic about it.
This is perhaps the most dangerous thing about drug addiction: not what the addict is going to do when he is high, but what he will do before he gets high, when the urge takes them over and his morality goes out the window. That's when people rob convenience stores. When people are high, they are just crazy, but when they are trying to get high or to hide their addiction, they can be deceptive, goal-directed, manipulative and mean.
Have you ever had a smoker friend give you his cigarettes and tell you he is quitting? "Don't give these back to me," he says. "No matter how I beg or plead, don't let me have another cigarette." You're a sucker if you agree. You should never put yourself in that position, because when he needs a cigarette, he needs one, and if you stand in his way, you are going to be crushed and in some way blamed.
Short of locking him up in prison, you are never going to make an addict quit from the outside. As the conventional wisdom says, he has to want to quit. He has to come to a stable resolution within himself that the addiction is his own responsibility, not anyone else's.
In the meantime, you can only do what you can to limit his damage, perhaps by taking away his children or banishing his addiction to a grungy glass booth in the airport. You can make options for treatment available to him, and you can make it clear that you are ready to help when he is ready to change. After that, you can only step out of his way and let him do what he is going to do.
“VERY INFORMATIVE Thank You and GOD BLESS” —firstname.lastname@example.org 1/22/07 (rating=4)
“Tell the Judges in Family Court to read this.” — 3/3/07 (rating=4)
“This seems extremely bias. some people really do drink to try and wash away their problems. You're saying that they're just saying that so they can drink, but that's not always true.” —the man 3/6/07 (rating=1)
“I thought Otis was acting drunk just to get a free place to sleep.” —Karen 6/26/07 (rating=3)
“"No matter how depraved an individual may be, they just aren't going to do something this stupid when they're not high." - this implies drugs, not people, are to blame for their actions.” —watch you 8/10/07 (rating=1)
“You really don't have any concept about addiction do you? You sound like the type of person that would have everyone act the way YOU want them too. Get a life and leave others to do what they will.” —Rusko 8/20/07 (rating=1)
“A succinct, hard hitting summary of the problems of addiction” —email@example.com 11/18/07 (rating=5)
“I find it sad that people are taking this over-generalization of addiction and addicts as fact. What a horrible service you've provided.” — 1/3/08 (rating=0)
“After being so harshly abused for trying to help my husband with his porn addiction, I felt God telling me to stand aside. Now he can't hurt me anymore.” —heartbroken 9/21/08 (rating=5)
“don't know squat about drugs.” — 12/12/08 (rating=0)
“Do the world a favor and never write again, ever. You do nothing but contribute to the reinforcing circles of ignorance that plague modern society.” —gnotdumb 4/5/09 (rating=0)
“Well put. Your thoughts provide fresh perspective in the understanding of addiction.” —ohadi 4/23/09 (rating=5)
“Good, basic stuff - generally helpful” — 5/16/09 (rating=3)
“why all the 'He', 'His' and 'Him'? females are also affected by addiction as you must know, and your concious OR subconcious lack of acknowledgement in this makes me wonder - Why the hell did i bother to keep reading this?” —human 7/7/09 (rating=2) ... Response from Webmaster: "He/him" is a stylistic choice. Better than "they/them" or "he or she".
“Im using some of their facts for my school project (:” —Kenzie 6/2/10 (rating=5)
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Page Started: 1/18/07