Many of us understand the effects of alcohol intoxication. We seem to notice that our perceptions are altered, reaction time is slowed, we tend to do things we wouldn’t normally do, heart rate is lowered, fine motor functioning is impaired and eventually gross motor functioning is impaired. Pretty much we are unable to truly interpret what is going on around us and to function properly. Ever tried to have a discussion with someone who is intoxicated? How did that go?

Have you ever been emotionally intoxicated? I can ask the same question, but in a different way…Have you ever had an emotionally charged conversation or argument with someone? Or, have you ever been emotionally worked up?  If you answered yes, then you have been emotionally intoxicated!

It is important for you to understand what happens to you when you are, in a sense, emotionally intoxicated. First of all, it is much like being intoxicated with alcohol. Your perceptions are altered. Pretty much you are seeing things through the lens of your emotions. Your heart rate is increasing, blood pressure increases, you may be slightly shaky as fine motor skills are reduced, your ability to listen to someone is greatly impaired, you develop selective hearing and attention, your insecurities and emotions begin to run the show, and you become quite reactive with limited ability to be rational and think before you speak!

You may have noticed this when you argued with someone. That person was not hearing the whole statement you were making and only heard certain words. Then, they began to twist your words and jump to conclusions. At this point, you may have become frustrated as this person is just not being rational. Or, that person could have been you!

We need to understand that when we are under the influence of our emotions and insecurities that we are greatly impaired. We are not interpreting things accurately and are very prone to saying or doing things we may regret later…….sounds much like being intoxicated with alcohol huh?

Anyways, what is important is for us to develop awareness of when we have become too emotionally intoxicated or controlled by our emotions and insecurities. At the same time, we also need to develop awareness of when others have become too emotionally intoxicated. This skill is tremendously helpful for couples when engaged in an argument. Once they are able to recognize the signs of emotional intoxication they can take steps to ensure they do not do any further harm to the relationship.

Frankly, it doesn’t take too much for emotions to begin to cloud our perceptions and impair us. However, there are four distinct behaviors that one exhibits when they are truly impaired. Watch out for these because when you notice them you are aware that this person is not interpreting your actions or words in a rational manner. Rather, they are misinterpreting. Or that person could be you!

Once a person becomes defensive they are no longer interested in hearing what you have to say. Rather, they are now in self-protective mode and will misinterpret your actions or words as attacks. In fact, they will only pay attention to certain words.

  1. Overly critical.

A person who has become overly critical of you has now entered self-protective mode and is attacking as well.  They are truly emotionally intoxicated and difficult to deal with in this state of mind.

  1. Shut down (talk to the hand; or stonewall behavior).

If a person has shut down, they realize they are filled with way too much emotion and have chosen to just shut down. In a sense, they are essentially passed out! Continuing a conversation with this person will be of no benefit as they are overwhelmed and flooded in the brain. In fact, if you continue they may wake up and become more aggressive.

  1. Condemning (name calling; belittling).

This is the person who is so emotionally intoxicated they are aggressive and dangerous. Do not waste time or energy engaging in a dialogue with such a person. They truly cannot hear you or even have the ability to have empathy for you at this point.

What to do?

If you find yourself or another in a state of emotional intoxication what can you do? Much like alcohol intoxication……they, or you, need time to sober up! Basically, it is time to calm down! Once you give it time, your senses and perceptions will return to normal (sobered up). But, watch out for the emotional hangover feelings of guilt, continued anger, difficulty sleeping, lowered appetite, nauseousness, headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Don’t worry, they will go away and your senses will return again!



Chris Swenson is a licensed therapist who helps people overcome and face life’s most treacherous challenges. His office is located in Sterling, CO. For an appointment please call Chris at (970) 522-0796.