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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Alcohol and Personality Changes

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 8th 2008

 Case 1:
My wife is usually a very sweet, highly intelligent person.  When she drinks and in particular red wine she completely transforms.  She becomes another person...She is furiously enraged...She can be in a rage for 10 to 18 hours screaming at the top of lungs swearing she is being raped and abused. It appears that she is just like her father. He was an alcoholic that died long before I met her...Red wine seems to set her off faster than anything.  There is no talking with her about this as the person that has these episodes is not the person that is normally there and she has no memory of the events.  To her it was a fun time and then she went to bed.  The hours and hours of horrible crying that changes into rage is completely not there in her memory the next day...It is really scary.

Case 2:
I'm a therapist myself in a small outpatient clinic in the northeast. Although there is no official behavioral diagnosis for severe personality changes other than intoxication, abuse,....diagnosis of an individual who has consumed alcohol, I can tell you this. I've personally witnessed a woman, of 27, a mother, and generally good person turn into a wild animal after 1/2 a glass of Merlot. She assaulted someone. It was a very scary scene. If that helps.

Case 3:
My husband is mean and verbally abusive to me when he drinks.  Insults  belittling and very hurtful things come out of his mouth. I actually am so appalled that I freeze while his bitter insults act like knives that are stabbing me. He uses sadness and losses in my life as weapons against me. He tells me how he was so much happier before he met me and that I am a terrible mother and that everyone thinks that I am not good enough for him. Are these his true feelings that are coming out when he drinks?

Please go to the following URL to read some background information on this issue:  

/poc/view_doc.php?type=advice&id=1510&at=7&cn=14&d=1

The above are three comments that people have posted to Mental Health Net in recent months. These three are typical of the many comments and questions we get about alcohol abuse. All of the posts mention feelings of shock about the way the writers have been treated by their spouse or significant other when they have been drinking. In many of the cases, writers ask if it is true that alcohol consumption can cause personality changes and if the rageful comments made by the inebriated individual can be true.

First, it is important to state that individuals react differently to alcohol. There are people who become "happy drunks." They are people whose aggression is not released when they are drinking, even if they may become more outgoing. The way a person reacts to alcohol seems to depend on such things as their genetics, constitution, neurological system, and many other imponderable factors.

In contrast to those who are the happy drunks are those who become rageful when they are drinking. How quickly they become rageful also varies according to the same variable factors mentioned above. For some, rage can begin after one drink while for others, it may take many drinks. For those who experience this release of aggression after drinking the speed of the onset of their belligerence may depend on their recent mood and stress level.

The point that is being emphasized here is that for those people who become irritable while drinking it can seem as though a personality change or transformation has occurred to the loved ones surrounding this person. Of course, the transformation is not permanent and the previously inebriated individual returns to baseline after they recover from the drinking episode.

Alcoholism:

Among the major symptoms that a person may be addicted to alcohol or suffering from alcoholism is the fact that they are unable to remember what they were doing while drinking. For those individuals, the memory of their obnoxious behavior seems to be and probably is erased.

Another symptom of addiction is the inability to resist the impulse to drink and, in fact, to look forward to or think about drinking all during the day.

These symptoms are often accompanied by not only denial but downright anger if someone, a wife, mother, friend, point out that they have a drinking problem or should stop or go for help. The angry denial is interesting because those doing the "pointing out or advising" mean well and are not trying to be insulting. The average person might react by admitting they are drinking too much and will reduce or stop the drinking, but without getting angry because they do not feel a need to be annoyed. The heavy drinker, seemingly unaware of what is happening, become furious, resentful and enraged.

These are only a few of the symptoms that a person may have a problem with drinking. A few other symptoms are drinking early in the morning, experiencing a craving for alcohol, hiding bottles or drinking secretly so that family will not know what is happening, and many more that can be learned elsewhere on this site or by doing an Internet search.

One of the most dangerous factors involved in drinking, besides the well known one about the dangers of drinking and driving, is mixing alcohol consumption with medications. For example, it can be dangerous to use Benzodiazapines(Valium, Zanax, etc) with alcohol. The reason is that all of these, including alcohol, are central nervous system depressants. As such, they can suppress breathing and cause death. If a person is abusing Benzodiazapines and alcohol, there is an even more acute danger of death.

Just to add one more note about medications and alcohol, mixing the use of anti depressants and alcohol leads to, according to what I have been told by psychiatrists and patients, a much quicker inebriation. Whatever the scientific explanation might be, once you are taking anti depressants, one drink has the impact of two, and so on, up the line.

In my opinion, things said by a drunk while they are drunk, should not be taken seriously. For those individuals, the release of aggression is so powerful, after they have started drinking, that their comments and behavior are irrational. I am aware of the ancient Roman saying that "In vino veriatas." I do not agree that what is said while drinking is truth.

If you suspect or even question if you have a drinking problem it is important to go for help. Among the types of help available are: Alcoholics Anonymous, Rational Recovery, Detox and additional treatment programs and now there is even medication that, after recovery, can remove the impulse or craving to drink.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

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