Experiencing a personality change when drinking alcohol isn’t uncommon, but long-term alcohol consumption could have lasting personality effects.

The concept of personality is challenging to define. General consensus suggests that your personality is a combination of persistent behaviors and dominant characteristics — such as your interests, emotional patterns, and inherent value system.

Everyone’s personality is unique, and while it can change as you experience life, the major components tend to persist through the years.

Alcohol use can drastically and quickly alter some personalities. While it doesn’t cause major or noticeable shifts for everyone, some people can seem completely different compared to when they’re sober.

Alcohol affects how your brain functions. It’s a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which impairs your natural ability to perform cognitive functions like forming memories, making decisions, and regulating emotions or urges.

Jennifer Worley, a licensed marriage and family therapist from First Light Recovery, San Juan Capistrano, California, explains alcohol changes neurotransmitter levels, especially those of gamma aminobutyric acid and dopamine.

“As a result, alcohol can lower inhibitions and alter judgment, cognition, and mood,” she says. “When people consume alcohol, it can magnify underlying feelings or tendencies, making them more pronounced.”

Joel Touchet, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Fountain Hills Recovery, Fountain Hills, Arizona, adds that alcohol removes the filters and defense mechanisms we often use in daily life.

“We act differently with our friends and family than we would at work,” he says, for example. “The behaviors and thoughts that wouldn’t manifest when we are sober because of the filter come spilling out when the filter is reduced or removed.”

Does alcohol bring out your “true” personality?

The personality changes you experience while under the influence of alcohol aren’t necessarily the “real” you.

Your personality is typically defined by who you are in a usual state, not who you are when you’re under the influence of mind-altering substances like alcohol.

“The behaviors and emotions exhibited while intoxicated are just a part of a person’s broad spectrum of feelings and reactions,” Worley indicates. “They don’t necessarily represent their core character or values.”

They may reveal a more accurate representation of your internal state, however, suggests Touchet.

“While it is difficult to conclusively say that someone is more real when under the influence, it is safe to say that what you see is a more accurate portrayal of what is going on inside of that person.”

Personality changes from alcohol can vary from person to person and can be negative and positive. Research from 2017 indicates common effects of social drinking, which include:

  • extroversion
  • anger
  • impulsivity
  • sadness
  • euphoria
  • relaxation
  • lowered inhibition
  • sensation-seeking

When it came to the positive benefits of alcohol consumption, the same study found that the effect was stronger in reducing negative emotions than it was in introducing positive ones.

On the other hand, a 2020 Swiss cohort study found aggression and hostility to be common personality shifts related to alcohol use.

Worley points out that alcohol’s effects on the prefrontal cortex area of the brain make it easier for people to act on aggressive impulses, and alcohol can amplify underlying emotional states. If someone is already feeling stressed, anxious, or angry, alcohol might intensify these feelings.

Touchet says this doesn’t mean irritability and meanness are the most common personality changes. “I think we tend to see those reactions more easily than others,” he states. “The crying and sad drinker is usually not in the middle of the room having a confrontation with someone.”

Research into the long-term personality effects of alcohol use is ongoing. How alcohol influences your personality when sober may depend on how much you drink and how often.

According to 2018 findings from the Health and Retirement Study, long-term alcohol consumption was associated with decreased extraversion and decreased conscientiousness later in life (conscientiousness describes a careful, detail-oriented nature). However, these changes varied on the amount of alcohol and frequency of use.

One thing is certain: heavy, long-term drinking, such as that seen in alcohol use disorder (AUD), can cause permanent damage to your brain that may affect attention, impulse control, memory, sleep regulation, and other important cognitive functions.

“Chronic misuse of alcohol can indeed lead to lasting cognitive and behavioral changes,” Worley says. “Over time, these changes can contribute to personality shifts, especially if the brain damage is significant. Moreover, long-term alcohol misuse can exacerbate or lead to mental health disorders, which can further influence personality.”

She adds that not everyone who misuses alcohol develops these changes and that genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors can also play a role.

Alcohol use disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition. It’s defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), as a problematic pattern of alcohol use that leads to significant impairment or distress.

Warning signs and behaviors associated with AUD include:

  • ineffective attempts to reduce alcohol use
  • regularly drinking more or for longer than intended
  • excessive time spent using alcohol, obtaining alcohol, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • craving alcohol
  • alcohol use negatively impacts obligations at work, home, or school
  • alcohol use continues despite negative consequences
  • social, occupational, and recreational activities are given up or reduced due to alcohol use
  • using alcohol in situations that put your physical health at risk
  • symptoms of withdrawal
  • drinking more to achieve the desired effects
  • experiencing alcohol-related memory blackouts
  • mood instability
  • suicide ideation

In AUD, the drive to use alcohol can become so intrusive it can influence the majority of your choices and behaviors, making you seem like a completely different person compared to who you were before the disorder.

Even one night of drinking can have major consequences. It’s never too late to speak with someone about ways to reduce your alcohol intake.

If alcohol consumption is negatively affecting your interpersonal relationships or other important areas of daily life, you may be living with AUD.

Help is available any time of day by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. You can speak confidentially with a representative who can connect you to local support services and treatment specialists.

Alcohol is a CNS depressant that can affect your ability to regulate emotions and keep a check on impulses. For some people, these effects on the brain create noticeable personality shifts while drinking.

While using alcohol may reveal more of your inner thoughts and emotions, the personality that comes through when you’re drinking isn’t necessarily the “real” you.

Over time, heavy, excessive drinking characteristic of alcohol misuse and AUD may result in brain damage and permanent personality changes. Seeking treatment for alcohol misuse, particularly through therapy, is often recommended.