Most people use substances for the perceived benefit of experiencing a change in their state of consciousness. While intoxicated, negative experiences such as self-consciousness, stress, over-thinking, anxiety, and fear are reduced. The very same brain mechanisms which permit these negative experiences, however, are at work in making sure that you stay true to who you are. When you shut down your tendency to be hindered, you are also shutting down the parts of yourself that make you genuine.
Over the centuries, the power of drugs and alcohol have been regularly referenced as evil forces. Alcohol has been called devil’s water, and those under the influence of psychoactive drugs have been called demon possessed. While our progress in scientific study has largely done away with the notion that the effects of substances are related to supernatural influence, it is still observable that people can act very ugly while under the influence. A normally kind, patient, and thoughtful person can begin to act like someone else, entirely. A major flip in personality while intoxicated is a red flag for having a substance abuse problem.
The negative behavior of someone who is intoxicated can be observed both while the person is under the influence, and during the in-between times of withdrawal. There are many hypotheses as to why some people have this tendency to become a more angry, violent, hopeless, or sad version of themselves during this time. One of the explanations for this change in behavior has roots in studies of the unconscious. While intoxicated, a major control center of the brain – known as the executive function – shuts down. This results in a situation where there is no process remaining by which to consciously make decisions. Traces of information, emotions, and impulses which lurk behind that doorkeeper of the mind are set loose with no filter, with no rationale, and with no long-term goals of survival in mind.
This lack of ability to think ahead and make decisions using all available information while intoxicated can contribute to making some very bad decisions. People in this state can say incredibly hurtful things to those they genuinely care about. They can end up telling off people who hold influence over ongoing livelihood, such as a boss. They can pick a fight with a tough opponent or a law enforcement official, and end up in the hospital or jail. None of these terrible consequences would have occurred if such person was in a sober, thoughtful, mindset.
The Deception of Better Performance
There are some who are certain that their excessive drug or alcohol consumption is not a problem. These folks are usually standing on the argument that they actually become better people while under the influence. A shy person might say that he is only able to be social in a group once the alcohol has hit his bloodstream. A highly anxious person might say that she is only able to calm down enough to think after taking a couple of hits. A person may use the substances to put in the extra hours at work, and rise to the top of a corporate ladder.
One only need to look at this problem from the angle of professional sports to get a clear picture of the problem. Athletes are regularly caught risking their professional lives and their overall health by ingesting – or injecting – performance enhancing drugs. In the sports world, this behavior is considered to be cheating. Using substances to gain an edge on the competition through artificially enhancing traits which otherwise wouldn’t be as prevalent is not fair play. In the game of life, using substances to turn yourself into someone that you aren’t otherwise is similarly unfair. It isn’t fair to you, and it isn’t fair to the people whom you are deceiving with your substance-induced persona. They are attracted to you for a lie.
Even though being friendly and focused are normally personality traits that someone might treasure, the problem in these scenarios is that the traits really don’t belong to you. They are borrowed attributes, only existing in the presence of whatever substance you are using. Without developing the ability to be more social and more attentive without the use of drugs or alcohol, you run the risk of becoming reliant on using the substance as a perpetual crutch. The more you rely on it to get you through, the more likely it is that you will become addicted. Once addicted, the tool which you thought you were using to improve yourself can end up controlling you.
For the person who is using substances to become a better person, the same process of executive function impediment is occurring as with the person who turns ugly. Those traits which are able to emerge while under the influence are some which already exist in you, floating around behind the control centers of your brain. Learning to access those desirable behaviors while sober is a task of retraining the conscious mind to let some of those attributes through on a daily basis. Keeping yourself intoxicated only hampers your natural development in these areas.
Changing Yourself Through Sober Tactics
If you are using substances to escape things about yourself which you don’t like, or to enhance things about yourself that you don’t usually notice, it may be helpful to know that there are ways to produce these benefits without using drugs or alcohol. The field of cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is devoted to teaching people how to retrain the mind to work in desirable directions. Through applying right methods in your thinking with sobriety and consistency, you can eventually see yourself emerging as a person who is more positive, more focused, and more at peace with the world. You can also live in a sober living community where you would be surrounded by like minded individuals to help bolster recovery.
The best part about using sober approaches toward becoming the person that you want to be is that the changes are permanent. There will be no more need to score that next high, and no more risk of exhibiting personality traits which don’t represent the real you. You will be able to attract people into your life who know who really you are, and appreciate it.