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What Do These Mood Shifts Mean?

Full moon night

golf61's son seems to change personalities at night. What is going on?

"Why is nighttime so difficult for my son. He gets up as one person then around 6 in the evening he gets that panicked, scared look and it goes on till he finally sleeps."

It’s hard to answer the question of why your son is having such wild mood and behavior swings over the course of the day. One place to start is to mark alongside the mood changes what you believe he is doing with respect to drugs or alcohol. It’s the Key Observations exercises 3 and 4 in Module 3 of the Learning Center.

Getting some answers to these questions will help explain why these shifts occur AND how you might respond in a way that discourages the substance use that may be contributing to these shifts.

Before going into more detail about these exercises, it is important to consider several other possibilities for these mood changes. Does your son struggle with mental illness? Depression or anxiety? Something else? Could a mood disorder be more responsible than the drug use? Even professionals in the field have a hard time distinguishing correctly between organic problems related to mental illness and the mood problems that result from drug and alcohol use (before using, during using, after using). It can be easier to get a Loved One to agree to see someone for a mental health issue than for drug use. If you think this is part of the problem and your son is resistant to addressing his substance use, lead with the mental piece and let the professional come around to the substance use.

The other possibility is that this is a “natural” outcome of your son’s personality. Has he always had mood swings? Some individuals are just much more emotional than other individuals. What part of this has to do with his personality?

So, there's no easy answer. Is it drugs, a mood disorder, his personality, or some combination of these? To the degree that drugs and alcohol are involved, let’s take a look at how the Key Observation exercises in Learning Module 3 can help.

First, a recap of the cycle of use….

Family members may know all too well what drugs their Loved One uses. But some simply don’t. If this is you, we provide a list of signs and symptoms in the Resource Supplement.

Right before your Loved One actually uses, his mood may perk up. He’s made the decision to get high and this can energize him, both emotionally and physically as he pulls together what he needs to get high. It’s like a placebo drug, starting to work before it is even ingested.

You’ll need to understand what he looks like when he’s high. The signs and symptoms of use are well covered in the Resource Supplement. People use substances to tweak their mood. Substance users are like chemists, looking for that perfect combination of substances, or just the right amount, or taking more as the drug begins to wears off. So, it's possible he may be using more than one drug, separately or in combination, at different times for different mood states.

At some point, he has to stop. Either through self-will, an upcoming responsibility/commitment, or because the drug(s) is (are) all gone. Withdrawals set in. Withdrawals can be subtle, like those linked to marijuana, or they can be extreme, like the withdrawals of opiates or cocaine.

Perhaps he doesn’t completely stop, but drops down to a drug like suboxone or beer, in order to be just functional enough or to avoid withdrawals.

So, look at these exercises and do your best to match this cycle of drug use to the emotions you see your son going through.

If you can’t answer these questions completely right now, don’t despair. Being a little more removed and objective will help you to be a better observer and to tie the emotions to the substance use.

Understanding this cycle will help you respond to your son’s use rather than his emotions. This is key in harnessing your influence. For instance, when he is cranky and isolating, he may be withdrawing. Don’t step in and try to comfort him. Don’t ease his mood.

 Modules 5 and 6 explain in detail how to respond when you see use and when you don’t.

You are now tracking your son’s behavior with drugs and responding better to him. You will feel less responsible for the emotional shifts, and hopefully take things less personally when he directs the responsibility for his emotions at you.

You ask a fundamental question that is not easy to answer. The tools on this site provide one piece of the puzzle, an important piece – the role drugs may be playing in your son’s emotional up's and down's.

Families vary widely in their ability to discern what is going on with their Loved One. Let us know if this is helpful and what challenges you may encounter as you work on the Learning Exercises.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)