Addiction can affect how the brain functions and impact your behavior in ways that others may perceive as manipulation.

Substance use disorder and addiction is a complex condition that affects millions of people worldwide. People with addiction become emotionally and physically dependent on the substance they use.

Continued substance use can impact how your brain functions — both in the short term and the long term. This can lead to changes in your daily behavior that others may perceive as a change in your personality.

Desperation to obtain the substance may make a person act in deceitful or manipulative ways. The stigma surrounding substance use may also drive the person to act this way to deny using substances.

If your loved one has substance use disorder, being able to recognize these changes in their behavior can help you know how to respond to them appropriately.

Language matters

While we discuss people with substance use disorder using tactics such as manipulation in an attempt to control others, it’s crucial to note that this is likely due to changes in the brain caused by substance use.

People with substance use disorder aren’t inherently “manipulative” people.

And not everyone with substance use disorder uses manipulation tactics to gain control of others. Some use them but do not have problems with substance use.

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Substance use disorder can affect the brain and behavior in the short and long term.

Short-term changes

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance use releases a flood of certain brain chemicals, including dopamine and endorphins, in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia.

Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, which keeps the person coming back for more. Endorphins and other natural opiates produce the feeling of euphoria.

Additionally, different types of drugs have various short-term effects. For example, stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine can produce a temporary state of wakefulness and energy.

Long-term changes

As drug and alcohol use increases, the brain’s reward circuit is more and more affected.

Because of the constant flood of dopamine, the reward circuit becomes less sensitive, meaning that natural rewards (such as listening to music or working out) may no longer have an effect. The person starts needing the substance to feel pleasure and reward.

There are also long-term effects on the extended amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, according to research from 2020. These two areas of the brain are responsible for impulse control and responsible decision-making.

Over time, damage to the brain from long-term substance use can cause lasting effects that can affect a person’s mind and behavior in significant ways.

This can cause your loved one to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t, which may include manipulative behavior. Manipulation refers to when someone behaves in a specific way to attempt to control how another person thinks, feels, and behaves.

People with substance use disorder may use manipulation tactics because the substance they use has affected their objective judgment and reasoning.

Additionally, a person with substance use disorder may experience withdrawal, which can be a painful and sometimes life threatening process. Because of this, desperation may kick in to obtain the money to purchase more of the substance to avoid withdrawal symptoms — which may lead to this change in behavior.

Manipulation may also be used to deny they have a problem with substance use or divert blame from themselves to others as the reason they use these substances, which makes them feel less guilty about their own behavior.

Manipulation isn’t always easy to recognize. But here are some common manipulation tactics.

Remember that while these tactics are not specific to substance use disorder, a person living with or without the condition may use them.


Research from 2015 suggests that lying can be a crucial sign of substance use recurrence. Some common examples you may hear from someone with substance use disorder are:

  • “I’ve stopped using. I won’t use this money on drugs.”
  • “I didn’t drink last night. I told you I don’t have a problem. You can’t fire me.”
  • “I promise I’ll stop. This is the last time. Just give me money for one more drink.”


Someone with substance use disorder could also try to guilt-trip others, reminding them what they owe you or playing the victim. Some examples of guilt-tripping are:

  • “How could you do this to me?”
  • “You need to keep supporting me after everything I did for you when we were younger.”
  • “If you don’t help me and I end up in jail, then it’ll be your fault.”

Self-injury and threats of suicide

Research from 2019 discusses how self-injury and suicide attempts may be used by people with substance use disorder as a form of manipulation or to express frustration.

But this isn’t always the case. A 2013 study highlights that manipulation is rarely a reason for self-harm.

If your loved one is threatening self-harm or suicide, it’s crucial not to take these threats or actions lightly. Help is available right now. You can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Being nice just to get something

You could find that your loved one with substance use disorder is extra nice or friendly, but only when they want you to behave in a certain way.

For example, they might call you for the first time in several months when they need money. When you give it to them, they may go back to their usual behavior.

Silent treatment

Giving someone the silent treatment is a common manipulation tactic.

This is when someone stops talking with you, either passively or aggressively, until you feel or behave the way they want you to behave. It’s also called giving the “cold shoulder.”

Not interacting with you isn’t necessarily a manipulation tactic. People could have various reasons for not wanting to interact. But when this silence is used to control you, it could be seen as a form of manipulation.

Manipulation can be hurtful. But remember that it’s not your loved one’s fault. Substance use can often influence a person’s mood, behaviors, judgment, and insight.

If you feel like your loved one with substance use disorder is using manipulation to try to control you, try to keep the following things in mind.

  • Create, and stick to, personal boundaries: It’s crucial to maintain your boundaries, whether that’s learning to say “no” or setting limits on the amount of money or support you can provide.
  • Learn about substance use disorder: When you understand that addiction is a mental illness and how it affects the brain and behavior, it may become more clear why your loved one is acting the way they are.
  • Stay calm: Meeting manipulation tactics with anger may make the situation worse.
  • You’re not responsible: Remember that you’re not responsible for another person’s happiness. Your loved one’s problems aren’t your fault.
  • Encourage treatment and support: Try to encourage your loved one to seek treatment or join a support group such as a 12-step program. As long as they continue using substances, they may engage in manipulative behavior.
  • Focus on your own self-care: Try to make sure you’re sleeping restfully, exercising, eating nutritious meals, and connecting with people you love. Self-care will be crucial to maintaining your own well-being while offering support to your loved one.

If your loved one is living with substance use disorder, there are several resources available for help and support. Consider checking out the following:

  • the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) help page has education on the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances
  • the SAMHSA tool can help you find treatment for your loved one in their area
  • the SAMHSA also offers resources for families supporting a loved one with substance use disorder
  • the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator tool can help you find treatment for alcohol use disorder in their area
  • the NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking provides education on alcohol use
  • the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offers resources for families affected by addiction and substance use, including virtual programs that are offered free to anyone concerned about a family member’s addiction or substance use

If you want to learn more about support for substance use, you can check out:

If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s page on the family’s role in addiction and recovery.

Substance use and addiction often cause people to behave in ways that may feel manipulative to loved ones. People with addiction may use manipulation tactics to control the way another person acts, thinks, and feels.

They may also use it to gain access to substances or to hide the extent of their condition.

No matter the reason, manipulation is never your fault or your loved one’s. Substance use can affect the way the brain functions and lead to long-term damage that may influence their behavior and mood.

If you notice that a loved one is experiencing changes in their behavior, remember that it’s not their fault.

Learning more about substance use and how it affects the brain can help you understand and recognize the changes in your loved one. This will also help you learn how to deal with these changes while still offering support.