Drug and Alcohol Effects on Emotional Intelligence


Substance abuse is one of the most serious issues related to public health. Some of the most influential factors associated with the development of addiction are environmental and genetic (Mohagheghi, Amiri, Mousavi Rizi, & Safikhanlou, 2015). Modern life is characterized by a high degree of stress that can potentially contribute to the rise of the number of people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. It has been acknowledged that the health of people abusing alcohol and drugs deteriorates rapidly while their social links are significantly damaged.

One of the factors affecting the social aspect of the problem is substance abusers’ emotional intelligence (EI) or rather the lack of the necessary EI skills. Although the focus is often on the physiological domain, the bulk of studies on the correlation between substance use and emotional intelligence is also significant. This paper includes a brief review of peer-reviewed articles concerning the effects of alcohol and drug use on emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

The articles under analysis contain a detailed description of the variables and concepts used. Emotional Intelligence is one of the central concepts utilized in the sources. Fox, Bergquist, Casey, Hong, and Sinha (2010) provide a comprehensive definition of the concept. The researchers state that Emotional Intelligence implies the “potential to perceive and monitor emotions in both oneself and others as well as regulate, discriminate, and express these emotions in order to guide and facilitate thought and behavior” (Fox et al., 2010, p. 151). Claros and Sharma (2012) add that EI includes such important principles as self-awareness, impulse control, social competence, and empathy. Mohagheghi et al. (2015) note that self-esteem is an integral part of emotional intelligence.

It is also widely acknowledged that emotional intelligence is one of the tools to succeed in life. For instance, Mohagheghi et al. (2015) claim that people use their EI skills to improve their behavior and achieve certain life goals. The concept of emotional intelligence is closely related to one emotional regulation. The latter is associated with the focus on people’s acknowledgment and control of their emotions rather than the identification of feelings of others (Petit et al., 2015). Emotional regulation is also instrumental in achieving certain goals and developing social ties and networks.

The analysis of the previous research shows that major attention is paid to such areas as perception and identification of emotional states in self and others. For instance, Mohagheghi et al. (2015), Claros and Sharma (2012), and Fox et al. (2010) concentrate on these domains. Whereas, Preller et al. (2014) and Petit et al. (2015) tend to explore the social aspect. Irrespective of the focus of the studies, they prove that the use of the substance has a considerable impact on people’s ability to acknowledge and control their emotions, which has a negative effect on their social lives.

When discussing emotional intelligence, the researchers mainly assume that all people have equal opportunities and abilities to develop social links and emotional intelligence. At that, Preller et al. (2014) claim that drug users and binge drinkers try to conceal their problems from their close ones and many people they know. Moreover, many people often fail to understand that they have an addition or are about to develop one. Many individuals do not seek treatment. In addition, people lack EI skills and cannot report the level of their emotional awareness or self-control. All these facts make it difficult to research the problem.

Effects on Emotional Intelligence

As has been mentioned above, the use of drugs and alcohol and its outcomes have been studied extensively while emotional and social aspects have often been under-researched. However, these areas have a substantial effect on people’s well-being as well as their health (Preller et al., 2014). People who can regulate their emotions and identify other individuals’ feelings can adjust their behavior to the changing environment effectively. Claros and Sharma (2012) state that effective EI skills are related to “decreased risk behaviors” and “feelings of well-being” (p. 11).

It has been found that people abusing drugs and alcohol often have impaired EI (Mohagheghi et al., 2015). Petit et al. (2015) note that impaired EI often positively correlates with violence and criminal activity among patients suffering from alcoholism. The same trend is apparent in people using cocaine (Preller et al., 2014). The reviewed sources draw parallels between substance abuse and antisocial behavior.

One of the contributions of the articles in question is their focus on the exact effects of different types of substances on people’s behavior and cognitive abilities. It is clear that drugs have a more pronounced effect on people’s empathy and other EI skills necessary for the development of proper social networks (Mohagheghi et al., 2015). However, cocaine use tends to have a positive correlation with self-esteem. As for people suffering from alcoholism, they often have lower self-esteem, which negatively affects their social life (Petit et al., 2015). Although these people have higher empathy skills as compared to drug addicts, they still lack control over their emotions, which still has an adverse effect on their social life.

The review of the articles also shows that the researchers do not pay sufficient attention to the peculiarities of the participants’ substance abuse. The researchers try to focus on a particular type of substance abuse. However, Fox et al. (2010) note that patients abusing some type of substance often use other types. For example, cocaine users and patients suffering from alcoholism tend to smoke. People using cocaine or marijuana may also abuse alcohol. Fox et al. (2010) stress that the influence of such a mixture of substances is not well-researched but definitely requires more attention.

One of the major controversies of the articles is related to the way substance affects emotional intelligence. The researchers report that there is a direct link between the two variables, but it remains unclear whether people had insufficient EI skills prior to the development of their addictions. However, this is one of the central points within the scope of the problem. It can be necessary to understand whether people’s emotional intelligence is the major predictor of substance abuse. This information can help healthcare providers develop effective programs and treatment plans for populations at risk.

Effects of Emotional Intelligence on Substance Use

It has been underlined that the impact of substance use on emotional intelligence is two-sided since impaired EI affects people’s choices associated with the use of drugs and alcohol. For instance, Claros and Sharma (2012) emphasize that such EI components as emotion management, perception, regulation, and utilization predict the use of drugs and alcohol. People having difficulties with their EI feel vulnerable and often start or come back to using substances when they face issues associated with their social links.

Fox et al. (2010) studied the way emotional intelligence can help patients with drug addictions cope with their health conditions. The researchers state that insufficient impulse control and stress regulation tend to result in relapse among drug abusers. In simple terms, people having problems with EI are at risk of abusing drugs and alcohol while patients with alcoholism and drug addiction often develop low EI skills.

The contribution of the articles under analysis lies in their focus on the correlation between EI and the use of drugs, as well as, vice versa, the link between substance abuse and its impact on emotional intelligence. It is clear that EI is a predictor of people’s behavior resulting in substance abuse, but the reviewed studies have certain limitations. The extent to which the lack of emotional skills leads to the abuse of substances remains unclear.

For example, some personality traits and external factors (employment or unemployment, health issues, the loss of a close one, and the like) can play an equal role. The researchers do not pay attention to some social aspects of their participants’ lives. Only Preller et al. (2014) mention this limitation but still do not invest the necessary amount of time in its analysis. The studies also do not include proper analysis of the way ethnicity or environment affects substance use or EI skills development.


Another important point highlighted in the articles under consideration is the treatment of patients suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. All the researchers acknowledge the need for the inclusion of EI skills development into interventions aimed at helping patients suffering from substance abuse. For example, Fox et al. (2010) emphasize the importance of the development of such skills as impulse control and stress regulation.

The developers of interventions for substance abusers should consider including training aimed at helping patients control their impulses and manage stress. Petit et al. (2015) also reveal the benefits of EI training as a part of clinical treatment. The researchers state that patients should receive training associated with the development of effective emotion regulation strategies. Preller et al. (2014) add that the development of social skills should be a part of any treatment provided to drug addicts. Mohagheghi et al. (2015) stress that the benefits of the inclusion of EI skills development in people suffering from alcoholism have been researched.

At the same time, Claros and Sharma (2012) argue that it is insufficient to develop interventions or projects implemented in clinical settings. The researchers stress that peoples abusing alcohol or drugs should receive training and counseling from all stakeholders including but not confined to patients’ parents, relatives, community, counselors, and healthcare professionals. The combined effort of all these parties can translate into the development of effective intervention and improved health and EI skills of patients.

The discussion of this aspect of the problem is one of the central contributions of the reviewed sources. Although the researchers focus on the identification of the correlation between EI and substance use, they mention some practical implications of their findings associated with ways to help people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. Only Petit et al. (2015) evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention involving the development of EI skills in patients suffering from alcoholism. The researchers managed to identify the primary strengths and weaknesses of the program and some strategies used to train patients. This information can be employed to develop another intervention.

Petit et al. (2015) add that the strategies they utilized can be employed as screening tools. Counselors or other practitioners can use some patterns described in the article to identify patients with insufficient EI skills. However, this study has quite a small sample, which can compromise the findings’ reliability and validity. Therefore, this area needs further investigation. It is necessary to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions including EI skill training.

Methodological Limitations

Apart from the limitations mentioned above, it is important to pay attention to the methodological weaknesses of the studies under analysis. One of these is a feature of all the sources because the researchers resort to self-reports as the primary data collection tool. This method is associated with certain biases as people may have a distorted view concerning their EI skills. The participants in such studies also tend to provide answers that, in their opinion, are socially desirable. Another limitation is the use of quite small samples that ranged between 40 and 200 participants. Obviously, the findings lack generalizability although the researchers provide valuable insights into the problem.


In addition to the contributions mentioned above, it is necessary to mention the source’s focus on different populations. The researchers concentrate on quite different groups of people, which makes the studies valuable in terms of the existing knowledge base. For example, Fox et al. (2010) explore the perspectives of cocaine-dependent people seeking treatment. Claros and Sharma (2012) examine the views of students who have issues related to substance use. Petit et al. (2015) focus on treatment-seeking people suffering from alcoholism. All these populations have problems with substance use and are exposed to certain stress. Furthermore, quite different elements of emotional intelligence are explored as some researchers focus on emotional recognition while others shed light on the significance of emotional regulation and control.

Possible Implications

Apart from the potential benefit of the studies under consideration mentioned above, the findings can help in preventing such public health concerns as substance abuse. Although some elements of emotional intelligence development are present in the K-12 curriculum, it is evident that people are still unprepared to cope with the challenges of the modern world. The youth should be trained to acknowledge and control their feelings and emotions of others. Further research is needed to craft educational programs that could help young people develop effective EI skills.


In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the reviewed articles provide important insights into the correlation between substance use and emotional intelligence. It is clear that emotional intelligence skills play an important role in people’s behavior and their substance use. At that, the use of drugs also has an impact on the development of EI skills. Although there are a number of limitations to the studies under analysis, they contribute significantly to the knowledge base.

The researchers examine the perspectives of various populations, explore particular effects of different substances, and stress needs to include EI skills development in treatment. The findings can be instrumental in the development of effective interventions that can help people overcome addictions. Moreover, it is possible to initiate the discussion of the inclusion of emotional intelligence into the K-12 curriculum.


Claros, E., & Sharma, M. (2012). The relationship between emotional intelligence and abuse of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco among college students. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 56(1), 8-37. Web.

Fox, H., Bergquist, K., Casey, J., Hong, K., & Sinha, R. (2010). Selective cocaine-related difficulties in emotional intelligence: Relationship to stress and impulse control. The American Journal on Addictions, 20(2), 151-160. Web.

Mohagheghi, A., Amiri, S., Rizi, S. M., & Safikhanlou, S. (2015). Emotional intelligence components in alcohol-dependent and mentally healthy individuals. The Scientific World Journal, 2015. Web.

Petit, G., Luminet, O., Maurage, F., Tecco, J, Lechantre, S., Ferauge, M, … De Timary, P. (2015). Emotion regulation in alcohol dependence. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(12), 2471-2479.

Preller, K. H., Hulka, L. M., Vonmoos, M., Jenni, D., Baumgartner, M. R., Seifritz, E., … Quednow, B. B. (2014). Impaired emotional empathy and related social network deficits in cocaine users. Addiction Biology, 19(3), 452-466.

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