Drugs that Create Dramatic Emotional Changes


When you’re in a close relationship with someone who is using drugs, their frightening and dramatic emotional changes can be intensely disruptive. But it’s very common for the person being frightened by these changes to not really understand what is happening to their friend or loved one. Why are they so distant or paranoid all of a sudden? Why do they suddenly disappear for hours or days and then come back and act like nothing happened? Why don’t they seem to relate to their families or friends in the same way anymore?

A major answer is drug or alcohol abuse. When drug use becomes a long-term habit, it can wreak havoc on a person’s nervous system, overall health and mind. Greater awareness comes in the form of being able to recognize the mental effects of drug abuse when they are present. At least you will know what you are dealing with and you will know what kind of help to look for.

Here are the emotional and mental changes you might see as a result of some of the most commonly abused drugs.


When the potency of marijuana was much lower, this drug had a reputation for making users laid back and mellow. While this is still mainly true today, marijuana is significantly stronger today than it was 30 years ago.

A study from Colorado State University pointed at some very distinct emotional changes experienced by those using this drug. This study compared the emotional responses of those who had used cannabis (and were habitual users) with those who had not used the drug. Users had a stronger emotional response to images of angry faces than non-users. They also had a smaller response to happy faces than their counterparts.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk of serious mental effects including psychosis, depression and anxiety. A person who smokes high potency marijuana every day has five times the chance of developing psychosis. A person in the midst of psychosis definitely manifests dramatic and even dangerous emotional changes.

Marijuana is also associated with what’s called amotivational syndrome. NIDA defines this as “diminished or absent drive to engage in typically rewarding activities.” If a person is excited about a sport, activity, education or career goal one month and a few months later, they abandon that goal with complete disinterest, marijuana could be involved in that change.


Cocaine effect

A person who uses cocaine occasionally may be able to maintain their day-to-day equilibrium. When cocaine use becomes heavier and frequent, their calm facade may crumble. When the form of the drug used is crack cocaine, the reactions can be even more frequent.

Mental and emotional symptoms of cocaine use include:

  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Violence.

These effects may follow the period of euphoria, pleasure and confidence caused when the drug is first consumed. After a short period (five to 20 minutes), the user may start feeling irritable, restless and depressed. More cocaine will relieve this lowered mood but obviously, only for a short while.

Some people experience thoughts of suicide as well as dramatic emotional changes. Investigations into the presence of cocaine in those who committed suicide found this drug present in many of those who killed themselves.


Like cocaine, methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant. Therefore, some of the mental effects of these two drugs are similar.

NIDA notes that those taking this drug develop a tolerance that demands that they take more and more of the drug to get the same effect they used to get with a smaller dose. As they poison their bodies with this toxic substance, the effects can become quite severe.

Long-term methamphetamine use can cause symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Delusions
  • Violence
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressive behavior

Similar to cocaine, these negative effects may follow the euphoria, grandiose behavior and elevated mood experienced when the drug is first taken. Negative emotional effects may last for months or years after the person stops using meth.

Prescription Stimulants

Like the previous stimulants, prescription stimulants can cause extreme emotional changes when they are misused. The list of these drugs includes amphetamine (brand named Adderall) and methylphenidate (brand named Ritalin). Long-term effects include anger and paranoia.



As the name suggests, hallucinogens are drugs that cause hallucinations. A user, while the drug is active, may not see the world as it is at all. It may become a terrifying place where people are trying to kill them.

This category of drugs includes:

  • LSD
  • Psilocybin (“magic” mushrooms)
  • Peyote or mescaline (from a cactus)
  • DMT or dimethyltryptamine

A person’s experiences while taking a hallucinogen may be completely unpredictable. Some people may experience drug-induced psychosis. If you’re trying to talk rationally with a person in the middle of a hallucinogenic drug trip, they may be unresponsive to what is actually happening around them and unable to relate to what you are saying. The person may manifest extreme fear of death or loss of their sanity.

An LSD user, in particular, may experience rapid transitions from high to low emotional states, and back again. A psilocybin user may become nervous, paranoid and panicky.

Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs include:

  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • Ketamine
  • DXM or dextromethorphan
  • Salvia divinorum

These drugs cause a detached sensation—detachment from the environment and even one’s body and identity. They can also cause the following mental and emotional effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Emotional swings from sadness to uncontrolled laughter


When alcohol consumption becomes chronic, the mental effects can be severe. Studies report the following effects are common among long-term drinkers:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Antisocial behavior


The biggest problem with inhalants is that these substances are everywhere, in every household, every garage, hardware or department store. These drugs are often used by young people because of their availability. If a young person wants to experiment with drugs, they may first reach for an inhalant that is close at hand.

Inhalants include paint thinner, gasoline, correction fluid, hair spray, spray paint, computer cleaners, butane lighters, whipped cream cans, propane tanks and permanent markers.

The person abusing inhalants may manifest:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Inhalant abuse can be fatal the first time it is tried because these substances can cause asphyxia or heart failure without warning.

Synthetic Cathonines

Mother and daughter, conflict

A cathinone is a lab-produced substance that has effects resembling those of khat, a plant consumed in Eastern Africa for its stimulating effects. These drugs are often referred to as bath salts because they are sold in misleading packaging. But they may also be offered for sale as plant food, jewelry cleaner or phone screen cleaner.

Cathinones include:

  • MDPV
  • Mephedrone
  • Methylone

Even short-term use of these drugs can cause a person to become very erratic emotionally. Symptoms include:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Excessive friendliness
  • Panic attacks
  • Agitation
  • Violence

Drugs Aren’t the Only Cause of Ups and Downs

Obviously, upsets and losses in life can cause a person to move up and down in mood and this is a normal part of life. When a person’s emotional changes became erratic and unpredictable and the individual does not respond to your appeals or offers to help, you might consider drug or alcohol abuse as being at the root of the problem.

If this person has lost control of their drug or alcohol use, then your very wisest move is to find a rehabilitation service for this person at the first moment possible.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli: ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.