Beyond the Physical: The Emotional Effects of Addiction

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Beyond the Physical: The Emotional Effects of Addiction

The widespread uptrend in drug abuse and addiction in recent years in the United States has reached highest-ever levels. It has gotten to the point that President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a “National Health Emergency.” And many states in the union have declared their own states of emergency in an attempt to turn the rising tide of addiction in their states. Many individuals only look at the physical aspect of addiction. However, beyond that are the emotional effects of addiction, not only for the addict but for family and friends as well.

Opioid Addiction Epidemic

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have called the opioid crisis the worst addiction epidemic in US history, and link the shocking rise in addiction with the concurrent rise over the last couple of decades in the number of opioid painkiller narcotics prescribed to patients across America.

These powerfully addictive opiates were massively over-prescribed by doctors who were either ignorant of there potential for causing addiction, or who were rendered ethically unscrupulous by the massive amounts of money to be made in the prescription drug market.

The result of this trend of over-prescription in the medical field was countless people across the US made into unknowing addicts by taking the medicine that their doctors had recommended.

Opiates are not the only culprits either, with addiction to most any street drug you can think of also on the rise. As people who are addicted to prescription medications can no longer acquire them or can’t afford the prices for them on the illegal market, many turn to more common and less expensive street drugs like heroin and cocaine.

The Emotional Effects of Addiction on Loved Ones

The effects and impacts of drug abuse and addiction are far-reaching and affect far more people than just those who are addicted. The effects of drug addiction are also not just physical, there are many emotional effects of addiction for anyone who becomes addicted and for those who love and are close to them.

Addiction comes in many forms and there are so many different substances and drugs that a person can become addicted to that it is unlikely that we will ever know all the ways that addiction can affect a person, but there are some characteristics of addiction that are common to most if not all cases.

These can be broken down into the following:


Dependence on a drug or substance is when the body of the user becomes acclimated to the presence of the drug in its system and can no longer function without it. There are also very often strong mental and emotional effects of addiction and dependence.

These effects can take many forms but one of the common aspects of mental drug dependence for the user is:

  • Feeling like they need the drug not just because they like its effects, but because without it they don’t feel like they could live their life, perform day to day tasks like work or school, or even make it through the day without it.


When someone who is dependent on a drug decides to stop taking it or can no longer get it for whatever reason, they will go through what is called withdrawal. There are many symptoms of withdrawal and they tend to all be different for each different drug, but there are some common mental and emotional effects of addiction which go along with the withdrawal symptoms for many individuals.

These effects can include:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Strong feelings of loss.
  • Intense cravings to use the drug which can be both physical and emotional.
  • Intense mood swings and irrational behavior. This can involve sudden anger, aggression, grief, sadness, guilt, etc…


This is when after a period of drug or substance use, the body either becomes depleted of its natural resources or it starts to develop defenses against the drug and the drug starts to have less of an effect. The user then needs to take the drug in larger and/or more frequent doses of the drug to continue feeling the positive effects that they expect. There are not typically many emotional effects of drug tolerance other than perhaps irritation or frustration.


Drug abuse is a very large subject but is usually defined as using drugs recreationally or non-medically, in larger than recommended doses, or in any way likely to cause dangerous situations or health risks to the user. Abuse of drugs and other substances can cause all kinds of emotional effects for the user and those around them.

Some of these effects can include:

  • Feelings of euphoria or well-being caused by the drug, not the user’s actual circumstances or condition.
  • Other unreasonable emotional reactions including grief, happiness, anger, mild to extreme aggression, rage, feeling emotionally numb or hollow, and many other variations.
  • Lowered inhibitions. This can be mild like feeling more social or less reserved, or maybe extreme like not caring who you have sex with or not caring that you are walking in a bad part of town, naked and covered in blood.
  • Loss of memory. People who abuse drug and substances are often at risk of losing memory of events that take place while they are under the influence of the drugs. These people may also do or say things that are vastly out of character as they may not be consciously themselves while on drugs.


When a user takes too large a dose of drugs or ingests too large a quantity of a substance like alcohol for their body to safely absorb and process (detoxify) they are said to have overdosed. Overdose symptoms are different for different drugs but more or less all of them involve a high risk of unconsciousness and death.

For the user, there may not be much conscious emotional effect other than maybe fear or regret, but for the people around them and for those who love them, an overdose is a terrifying event that can cause all kinds of negative emotions.

The threat of losing the person they love and realizing that they have such a serious drug problem if they did not already know about it can seriously devastate someone connected to an individual that has an overdose.


Addiction is another broad term that covers a vast subject, and everyone experiences addiction differently and to different drugs, but addiction can be generally defined as a strong and often overwhelming compulsion to use a drug or substance despite its negative effects on the user and/or those around them.

The emotional effects of addiction are frequently vast and terrible for both the user and anyone connected to them.

It would not be possible to list all of the emotional effects of addiction here or perhaps anywhere, but here are a few that are common:

  • Many addicts feel like the drug or substance is their friend. Maybe their best or only friend.
  • Addicts often feel that they do not have a problem, and so they can often become estranged from the people who care about them and want to help them get better.
  • Loved ones of a drug addict often feel numerous emotions as a result of addiction. Feelings such as anger, grief, betrayal, loss, emotional disconnection from the addict, and many others.
  • People who care about an addict often feel a strong desire to help the person they care so much about, but don’t know how or feel like they can’t get through to them or get them to realize that they even have a problem. This can be extremely upsetting.

It is clear that the emotional toll of addiction is great and affects far more people than just those who become addicted. The emotional effects of addiction can be almost unbearable for loved ones of addicts.

Addicts are not the only people who need and deserve help, and there are many rehabs and groups out there that offer help and support to those who are connected to someone struggling with an addiction.

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