Does drug and alcohol abuse stunt emotional maturity?
This question has sparked a long, ongoing debate between healthcare professionals and research scientists. And in the book Substance Abuse and Emotion, this recurring debate is boiled down to one of two general assumptions:
- People who abuse drugs and/or alcohol do so because they are seeking pleasure from it.
- People abuse drugs and/or alcohol in order to escape other problems related to anxiety or depression.
The Effects of Drugs & Alcohol on Emotions
Psychological Dependence on Drugs and Alcohol
Emotional Maturity and Substance Abuse
As previously discussed in our other blog post, substance abuse DOES have a negative impact on emotional maturity. By abusing drugs and alcohol, addicts put themselves at an increased (and probable) risk of neuropsychological deterioration, making it difficult for them to recognize as well as process various emotions such as happiness, surprise, fear and sadness- as well as stunting their emotional growth in terms of the relationships that they keep with those around them.
According to a publication in ScienceDaily, throwing back a couple of cocktails in your 20s doesn’t necessarily constitute emotional immaturity or substance abuse. However, if one continues to make a habit of drinking and abusing alcohol into their thirties, then it becomes a different story.
Rachel Winograd, a researcher and doctoral student at the University of Missouri conducted a study that examined emotional maturity and alcohol use and found that when participants were interviewed at 25 years of age, some showed signs of alcohol use problems, but did not report any feelings of immaturity or lack of emotional development. However, when the same participants were interviewed later at the age of 29 and then again at the age of 35, there were individuals who showed signs of alcohol abuse and/or dependence as well as self-reported feelings of immaturity for their age.
Regarding the study, Winograd interpreted the findings as suggesting that when you are in a younger age bracket (such as 25 years old), it is culturally more acceptable to abuse alcohol. However, as time progresses and people grow older, most adults put the drinking behind them in order to focus on more important aspects of their lives:
…by 29, when many of their peers have settled down, individuals who still drink heavily may start to view themselves as ‘Peter Pans’ of partying, who never fully matured.
- Emotional effects of substance abuse | Livestrong | 2010
- The evolutionary origins and significance of drug addiction | NCBI | 2005
- Feelings of immaturity accompany alcohol misuse into adulthood | ScienceDaily | 2012
- Teen alcohol abuse may be cause, rather than effect, of social isolation and poor grades | HP | June 2012