Lying and manipulation seem to go hand-in-hand with addiction. These behaviors can be distressing to friends and family, who notice changes in their loved one’s actions over time. They become more secretive and may begin acting erratically, behaving in ways that are increasingly uncharacteristic of their personalities. Once-dedicated parents may be noticeably absent from family functions. A loyal friend begins to flake on longstanding plans. Hard workers drop the ball at work, over and over, and their overall performance degrades. One thing is sure: all of these people will formulate endless excuses for their behavior. Today, we’ll examine why lying is a hallmark of addiction.
Why Do Addicts Lie?
While not all people who struggle with addiction will lie, there are myriad reasons for someone with a substance use disorder to lie to their friends and family. It’s important to remember that addict aren’t their behaviors while in active addiction – the things they do are not their own will. At its core, their conduct seeks to maintain the addiction. Drugs immediately shut down one’s ability to think analytically; they devastate the areas of the brain responsible for logic and reason. All resources redirect to getting, using, and recovering from the drug of choice.
People who misuse substances may not believe they have a problem, and probably think that their use is under control. If telling the truth would result in confrontation or consequences, it’s only natural that they would seek to avoid these outcomes – especially if they would result in difficulty maintaining their substance use. Lying is the addict’s way of sidestepping these issues.
Addiction can develop as a coping strategy, meaning that it is how your loved one has chosen to escape their issues. They may believe substance use is the only way they can handle the problems in their life, and they’re hesitant to jeopardize it. For this reason, it’s common to lie about the extent of their problems. If loved ones knew the severity of their addiction, they may force change and take away their coping mechanism.
Finally, those suffering from the disease of addiction don’t want to face negativity or shame. They may believe their increasing dependence on drugs or alcohol will solve itself, and resent having the negative consequences of their behavior brought up to them. There’s often a great deal of shame surrounding their actions. For these reasons, they may outright deny the things they’ve done to create a less distressing story.
How to Deal with Lying and Addiction
This is an especially delicate issue for the families and friends of those in the grips of addiction, but luckily there are tried and true methods to overcome the issue of dishonesty. Honesty is the core of the first step of 12-Step programs: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” For many people and their families, this first step becomes life-changing.
Begin each conversation by establishing your goal for the talk – what is it that you hope to walk away with? Do you want to voice your concerns? Are you hoping they’ll open up to you about their issues? Is there a behavioral change you’d like to see? By considering these questions before opening a dialogue, you gain control and can more accurately strategize what to say. This allows you to create a more productive conversation where everyone can feel comfortable, understood, and heard.
Unfortunately, it’s common for loved ones to enable lying by pretending not to realize it’s happening. This leads to the addict believing they’ve gotten away with this lie – meaning they’ll get away with the next one – either because you really didn’t notice, or you’re pretending not to understand. In these circumstances, we recommend simply stating that you know what happened. Don’t go along with it, and don’t react with a great deal of emotional intensity. You don’t want them to perceive you as angry, vengeful, or “having it out for them.”
Instead of being caught up in the emotions surrounding dishonesty, consider the utility of the lie. Remember that this is a survival mechanism for your compromised loved one, and not a reflection of their feelings for you. Gently rebuke lies and reward honesty whenever able. Validation and the creation of a safe space to communicate will go a long way towards creating trust and a path to treatment.
The Truth About Addiction
There are two fundamental truths about addiction: it is a disease, and with hard work and concentrated effort, it can be treated. If your loved one has become secretive and is trying to hide their substance use, it’s not too late. Contact Spearhead Recovery today to begin the treatment process and prevent any further damage. You can reach us at 866-905-4550 or via our confidential contact form.