Why Do Drugs Affect Emotions, Cognitive Skills and Creativity?

Drug addiction can affect all facets of an individual’s life, with problems that range from the physical to the psychological. Because drugs often disrupt normal brain chemistry, changes in emotions, creativity and cognitive skills are common. These changes can lead to problems in relationships, decision making and work patterns.

Drug Use and Cognition

The parts of the brain that are affected by addiction are known to overlap those areas associated with many cognitive functions. The use of drugs causes an altered state of cognition, with disturbances in concentration, the ability to reason and reduced impulse control.Effects to the Brain

The changes in brain structure and function in those who use drugs produces maladaptive learning patterns, in which seeking and using the drug is the primary concern. Many studies have found that these alterations in the brain affect the centers of memory and concentration. These same changes are involved in the tendency to relapse into drug use, overriding the normal cognitive processes that cause individuals know they must stop using the drug.

Studies on children of individuals who used drugs prenatally show distinctly lower scores in attention span, memory and visual/motor integration. Drug use in adolescents can significantly alter their brain function as adults. Overcoming these alterations in brain structure can often require therapeutic re-training to restore cognitive function to its normal range.

Drug Use and Emotions

Emotional life also undergoes significant changes in those who use drugs on a regular basis. A growing body of research indicates that existing emotional issues may contribute to the risk of drug addiction. Many patients have ongoing issues with a number of psychological conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post traumatic stress syndrome
  • Schizophrenia

Some studies point to individuals using drugs to try to “self treat” emotional problems. These individuals get into a cycle of drug use to control emotions, addiction, attempts to stop, return of negative feelings and relapse that keep them addicted. For these people, addiction treatment must also include management of underlying psychological conditions. Disruptions in brain chemistry caused by drug use can also cause anxiety and depression in those who have not suffered from these problems previously. The use of cognitive behavioral therapy can be instrumental in managing these conditions, along with medication to treat the underlying illness. Cognitive behavioral therapy allows patients to self-monitor their emotions, reactions and behavior and design new methods of dealing with these issues.

Drug Use and Creativity

One of the great myths about drug use is its alleged ability to facilitate creativity. However, a study of many of the most renowned, creative people in history shows this to be demonstrably false. Most of them were able to reach the pinnacle of their work through intense mastery of their craft. Drug use, in fact, hinders this effort in many ways. Not only are the cognitive abilities of the drug user diminished, but also the judgment of the product of their work can be impaired. Although many users may feel that the drug enhances their creative ability to think “outside the box” to achieve new forms in their art, research shows that the drug is more likely to be a hindrance to them, not only in their creative process, but in the time and effort it takes to sustain the addiction, as well as the physical problems that are often a result of addiction. The pages of history are littered with creative people who were lost too soon due to their addiction. Hemingway, Degas, Billy Holiday, Janice Joplin, Kurt Cobain are just a few of the notable talents that were lost to us because of their addiction.

If you or a loved one has an addiction problem that is affecting emotions, cognitive skills and creativity, consider entering an inpatient treatment program to help deal both with the addiction itself and the underlying issues that may be causing the problem. These facilities can provide assistance in detoxification, counseling and developing skills to resume a life of sobriety and success.