Alcoholism and Personality Changes

Estimated reading time: 32 minute(s)

Experts describe personality as a combination of dominant characteristics and persistent behaviors, entailing emotional patterns, interests, and inherent value systems. Each individual is born with a unique personality open to change as they experience life. Despite these ongoing changes, the significant components usually persist through the years.

Alcohol, being a universally accepted and consumed drink, is particularly notorious for causing drastic and quick alterations in certain personalities. While it may not cause any noticeable or significant shifts for each person, some may become completely different compared to when they are not intoxicated. To understand alcoholism and personality changes, it is imperative to know how alcohol affects the brain and how to pick up these changes to initiate timely treatment.

Alcoholism and Personality Changes: How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Understanding how alcohol affects the human brain is necessary before learning how to pick up personality changes in alcoholics. Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, which means that it can inhibit neural activity. Its short-term use can reduce anxiety and inhibitions while promoting feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Chronic alcohol abuse, on the other hand, damages neurons, specifically in the prefrontal cortex area, which controls planning, emotional regulation, and judgment.

These impacts on the brain’s anatomical structures dampen executive functions while reducing the efficacy with which its reward system functions. For compensation, the brain becomes dependent on alcohol to trigger dopamine release. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for pleasure, motivation, and reinforcement of behaviors that lead to rewards. As time goes by, this dependency disrupts self-control, making it difficult for a drinker to regulate mood or handle stress without using alcohol.

At this point, it becomes evident that alcohol changes personality as most people start noticing both obvious and less obvious signs of an alcohol addict, such as compulsive behaviors, impulsiveness, and instability. Research has found that alcohol reduces executive functioning and prefrontal activity, making it more difficult for some people to manage emotional responses in the right way. [1] Moreover, it also causes an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission in the brain, leading to personality changes.

Understanding the Alcoholic Personality: Short-Term Changes

Short-term personality changes due to alcohol use are primarily due to physical intoxication. These changes can either be behavioral or emotional.

Behavioral Changes in Personality

Behavioral changes are a short-term reaction to alcohol use. This short-term drinking can indicate the start of a more prolonged addiction or may simply be a binge session. Regardless of what commences a short-term drinking session, the following behavioral changes may be seen in the personality:

  • Risky behavior: Over time, a person is likely to indulge in more extreme drinking habits. More frequent and heavier binges also put them at risk of brushes with the law, hospitalizations, accidents, relationship breakdowns, losing access to children, and more. A reduced sense of responsibility and a focus on self is at the core of all these problems.
  • Promiscuity: Alcohol intake can increase promiscuity, making a person overly sexual. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol use and promiscuity have several patterns, such as using alcohol during initial sexual encounters and perceiving alcohol-serving locations as a place of contact for sexual encounters. Research also suggests a relationship between promiscuity, alcohol use, and a lack of meaning in life. [2]
  • Self-Control: Excessive alcohol intake typically reduces self-control, leading to negative consequences.

Emotional Changes In Personality

Following emotional changes are likely to be seen in the personality of a person under acute alcohol intoxication.

  • Agreeableness: A study performed in 2018 found that excessive alcohol intake can reduce emotional stability, reduce conscientiousness, and lower agreeableness, regardless of how much a person drinks. [3]
  • Motivation: People vulnerable to alcohol are at a higher risk of experiencing motivational behaviors, such as novelty seeking, excitement seeking, and harm avoidance. 
  • Depression: The risk of undergoing depression significantly increases with alcohol use, mainly in a way that mutually reinforces each other.
  • Violence/Irritability/Anger: Alcohol intake may not be an increased cause of partner violence but can exacerbate it.
  • Overconfidence: A drinker is more likely to become overconfident under the influence of alcohol, dismissing others more quickly and feigning confidence in social situations. According to experts, these behaviors typically compensate for their loss of self-worth.
  • Emotional Volatility: Drinking alcohol can cause short-term increases in emotional volatility and instability. Any events or conversations that usually seem innocuous may cause extreme reactivity in people under intoxication.

Does Alcohol Change Your Personality Long-Term?

Alcohol is capable of inducing long-term personality changes, which enable the pattern of alcoholism to continue. These long-term changes are typically due to the following:

  • Behavioral changes whose purpose is to protect an alcoholic’s access to alcohol
  • Emotional changes to act out the behavioral changes
  • Physical changes in the neural structures consistent with long-term drinking

Behavioral Changes in Personality

Most of the long-term personality changes in behavior often develop as a means to maintain and sustain alcohol addiction over time. Some of these traits are acquired as a pain to escape pain without wanting to inflict pain on others. These changes are mostly subtle and work at an unconscious level, and they aim to maintain constant access to alcohol despite bearing negative outcomes.

Behavioral changes that an alcoholic observes in their personality also indicate that they are on the way to developing a dependence. These changes include the following:

  • Avoidance: An alcoholic tries their best to avoid all situations and people that are likely to reduce their access to alcohol.
  • Broken Promises: Alcoholics frequently make promises they cannot keep to keep up appearances and to make others realize that their drinking habit is under control. Work commitments, household tasks, and school appointments can be missed in an attempt to maintain access to alcohol all the time. Some people also break their promises, such as having one drink daily. 
  • Change of Peers: As drinking habits become long-term, an alcoholic typically changes their peer group to include people who support their active addiction broadly.
  • Denial: Admitting that they have an addiction can threaten a long-term alcoholic’s excess to alcohol, their only coping mechanism. Hence, such people commonly resort to denial, which helps them continue drinking without admitting it.
  • Making Excuses: Alcohol can make a previously punctual person change behavior. For instance, they may become more forgetful, miss work meetings, forget to spend time with family, and constantly make excuses for their oversights.
  • Blaming Others: Many alcoholics commonly blame others for the misdeeds they do under intoxication. Because these people have become dependent on alcohol as a means to cope, defending themselves by blaming others seems to protect them and their habits.
  • Secrecy: After months or years of drinking, many alcoholics realize that addiction is not helping them or those around them. However, due to a lack of compensatory support, they continue drinking but become more private. They may hide alcohol in specific locations or disappear to an unknown place for long durations without explaining.

Emotional Changes in Personality

The amygdala regulates emotional states inside the brain. This part of the brain is susceptible to changes in a neurotransmitter called GABA. When a person keeps drinking alcohol for a long time, GABA levels fluctuate, leading to the following emotional changes: [4]

  • Narcissism: Narcissism due to an alcohol personality includes an increased sense of entitlement, inability to empathize with others, and being mean. These indirect mechanisms protect a person’s ongoing access to coping mechanisms that involve alcohol intake.
  • Confusion: Too much alcohol intake for more extended periods causes liver toxicity. As the level of this toxicity increases, the likelihood of delusions heights, leading to emotional symptoms like displacement or confusion.
  • Shame: As the cycle of alcohol addiction continues, past misdemeanors and shortcomings occur more frequently. A drinker starts realizing feelings of responsibility, leading to shame. To eradicate this shame, a person is typically likely to increase his alcohol intake.


How does binge drinking affect a person’s personality? Does it depict a true personality?

The personality changes experienced by a person under the influence of alcohol are not necessarily a part of their real personality. Personality is defined by who a person is in their usual state, not how they behave under the influence of any mind-altering substance, such as alcohol. The emotions and feelings a person exhibits under alcohol intoxication are a part of their broad spectrum of feelings and may not necessarily depict their core values or character. At the same time, some experts believe that these personality changes are a more actual representation of a person’s internal state.

Can severe personality changes when drinking lead to a personality disorder?

Alcohol consumption does not trigger a personality disorder; however, it may impact its progression by worsening the symptoms and effects. A strong correlation exists between alcohol consumption and certain personality disorders, especially antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Individuals with ASPD have a much higher rate of alcohol abuse and associated issues than those without this disorder. Moreover, such individuals also exhibit more violent behaviors. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is also another personality disorder that shares ties with alcohol abuse. Because people with BPD have an addictive personality, individuals with this disorder often turn to alcohol for symptom relief. Most experts agree that alcohol can worsen personality disorder symptoms, making it difficult for a person to seek treatment.

Can consuming alcohol worsen an already existing personality disorder?

Active alcohol consumption is very likely to negatively interact with pre-existing mental health problems while exacerbating any underlying personality or behavioral changes. People with disorders like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder are particularly at risk. In such cases, seeking appropriate advice from a mental health professional regarding active management is imperative. Serious consideration must be given to abstinence through professional detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

Is it possible to reverse alcoholic behavior changes?

Most experts believe that personality changes due to alcohol use are reversible if a person achieves long-term abstinence along with the right level of support. Regular therapy under professional cover helps people unlearn the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. Hence, such people no longer require support from alcohol to deal with everyday struggles. However, individual success outcomes may vary depending on various factors, such as duration and severity of alcohol consumption, severity of personality changes, and how willing a person is to commit to long-term treatment.


1 Nutt D, Hayes A, Fonville L, Zafar R, Palmer EO, Paterson L, Lingford-Hughes A. Alcohol and the Brain. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 4;13(11):3938.

2 Nam JS. Predictors of Drug/Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Promiscuity of College Students.

3 Hakulinen C, Jokela M. Alcohol use and personality trait change: pooled analysis of six cohort studies. Psychological Medicine. 2019 Jan;49(2):224-31.

4 Hyytiä P, Koob GF. GABAA receptor antagonism in the extended amygdala decreases ethanol self-administration in rats. European journal of pharmacology. 1995 Sep 5;283(1-3):151-9.

Get in Touch for Help