Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy What Are the Effects of Addiction on the Human Psyche

What Are the Effects of Addiction on the Human Psyche

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If you or your loved one is afflicted with addiction, you aren’t alone. Unfortunately, you’re among the millions of Americans battling the debilitating side effects of substance-use disorders. According to the Addiction Center, approximately 21 million Americans suffer from at least one form of addiction. Economically, substance abuse leads to a loss of $600 billion annually.

These statistics are staggering. Here is some information that delves into pertinent terminology, instructions on identifying an addiction, and the psychological effects substance use disorders have on their victims.

What’s an addiction?

When people initially engage in substance use, they don’t anticipate becoming an addict. This sense of invincibility can lead to life-long struggles with substance-use disorders. It all starts with one pill, two pills, and before you know it, you’re addicted. 

Often, the term “addiction” is used colloquially by those individuals who aren’t familiar with the severity of clinically diagnosed addictive behaviours. To avoid using this terminology nonchalantly, work to understand what constitutes an addiction. 

What is addiction? By definition, it’s a brain disorder, resulting from compulsive substance abuse, despite the harmful effects.

Why do people engage in substance abuse despite the detrimental effects? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people use drugs for various reasons. Some are:

  • To improve performance or enhance concentration
  • Peer pressure or curiosity
  • To benefit from their mood-boosting effects
  • To cope with the side effects of untreated mental health disorders

Regardless of the motives behind the substance use, what started as an innocuous activity can lead to an uncontrollable craving.

Addiction can be mild, moderate, or severe. But is it treatable? Effective addiction treatment options are available. If you’re personally affected by a substance use disorder, note that the addiction healing process is lengthy and one that requires persistence. However, family-wide acceptance and support can expedite the journey down the road to recovery.

How do you know you are addicted?

Recurrent abuse of substance or continued engagement in an activity is the prime symptom of addiction. However, according to the NIDA, if you or a loved one meet at least two of the criteria below factors, consider these possible signs of addiction. Whether you’re performing a self-evaluation or assessing a friend or family member’s current state, refer to this list below.

  • Strong desire to use illicit substances
  • Continued use of the substance despite adverse societal effects
  • Use of the drug even in risky situations, i.e., at work, during a family event, etc.
  • Continued desire to stop using the substance, despite previous failures to halt abuse
  • Presence of substance tolerance and drug withdrawal symptoms

Psychological effects of addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) posits that addiction is chronic and affects the brain functions related to motivation, memory, and reward. ASAM defines addiction as a brain disorder that extends beyond a mere change in behaviour. If left untreated, substance use disorders can have devastating psychological effects highlighted below.


Addiction is often accompanied by symptoms of depression, especially after reoccurring relapses. Individuals struggling with substance use disorders usually experience feelings of hopelessness and shame that cloud their thoughts, leading to depression. 

For a sudden boost in serotonin levels, these substance-use disorder sufferers often turn to drugs. However, this form of self-medication is a temporal fix. These negative emotions will, inevitably, claw their way back when the user sobers up. 

It’s essential to acknowledge the nuance in every substance-use disorder sufferer’s journey. In some cases, the depression could have been pre-existing and may have even been the primary motivator for recreational drug use in the first place. Much like depression is a symptom of addictive behaviours, withdrawal symptoms could also lead to draining depression episodes.


Long-term addiction can potentially stir feelings of anxiety and symptoms of other panic disorders. After regular consumption, addicted persons often develop a sense of uneasiness and irrational worry. For instance, in the brain of a substance-use sufferer, everyday thoughts center around where they’ll find their next dose. Suppose the individual struggling with addiction finds themself in a compromising financial position and begins to doubt whether they have enough money to get their fix. In that case, they may notice an increase in panic attacks, unpleasant paranoia, or persistent feelings of peril. 

When anxiety is uncontrollable, it can lead to severe physical and psychological problems. How can you tell if your anxiety is severe? The below behaviours could be a potential sign.

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unwarranted panic
  • Repeated attempts to address one’s fears without success

Substance abuse intensifies the effects of anxiety. To alleviate the symptoms, substance users will increase the dosage, exacerbating the problem even further.


Addiction and insomnia coexist. Continued abuse of substances disrupts an individual’s sleep patterns. To get these sleep patterns back on track, it can take several days or even weeks. While a lack of restful sleep may seem the least of a substance-use sufferer’s worries, insomnia can lead to relapse, as users try to self-medicate. Substances such as alcohol have sedative effects, which can lure addicted persons into using once again to regain normal sleep patterns.


Cravings are one of the hallmarks of psychological dependence. It often manifests when you try to withdraw from your drug of choice. These cravings can be devastating and can detrimentally affect the way you think. Those impulses may even spur risky behaviours, which affect your education, job, and relationships for the worse. 

Generally speaking, cravings don’t last long, especially when clinically managed. However, they can cause frustration, hinder productivity, and potentially lead to relapse.


Those who abuse substances such as marijuana and cocaine are likely to experience guilt and fear, as they hide their substance abuse from their loved ones and gradually withdraw from society.  Those suffering from a substance use disorder will usually fear being caught, as illicit drug use could lead to job termination, divorce, severed friendship ties, or incarceration. Again, since recreational drug use is illegal in most circumstances, this may add an extra layer of paranoia to drug users.


Addiction has overwhelming and long-term effects on an individual. The situation is even more devastating if left untreated. The good news, however, is that there are many recovery and rehab centers in the country. If you are struggling with addiction, take that bold step towards treatment, and you’ll return to the sober version of yourself in no time. 

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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