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By: Rick Fannin
15 Reasons That Addicts Lie
It is excruciatingly painful when someone you love and care about lies to you. We may feel an array of emotions, such as hurt, angry, betrayed, insulted, shocked, afraid, or confused. If you love someone who struggles with addiction, you most likely have experienced various emotions due to lies. You may be left wondering why do addicts lie?
Deception becomes second nature, and addicts will lie even when it is just as easy, to tell the truth. Many don't even realize they are lying or that others can see straight through the deception. For the addict, living a double life and trying to remember who and what they told others is exhausting. But why do addicts lie? And why is rigorous honesty a requirement in recovery?
Lying Gives the Addict Control
While everything else in the addict's life may be entirely out of control, the addict will lie to have a sense of control of a situation. Lying will enable them to get the reaction they are looking for or possibly influence decisions and gain what they need to continue the addictive lifestyle. The addict will lie in an attempt to control the amount of hurt that they are causing the ones they love. If they tell the truth, they feel like they're giving up control.
The Addict May Lie Because They Want the Lie to Be The Truth
The addict may lie because they believe they are telling the truth or desperately want the lie to be the truth. They may tell you they are doing OK, but they have not progressed in recovery enough for them to be able to recognize the tell-tell signs of a pending relapse. The addict may completely believe it is entirely truthful when they tell you, "I will NEVER use again." They may genuinely think they are doing OK because they have not developed an internal self-awareness to see the relapse warning signs. They may tell you, "I promise, it will be different this time," and they genuinely want that to be the truth for them and you.
They Lie for You To Approve of Them
The addict will lie to impress you, for acceptance, for your approval, or for you to be proud of them. All humans have a natural need for love, approval, acceptance, and belonging. They don't want to disappoint you, and they're worried that it will cause you to lose respect or reject them if you learn the truth about them. Many with addictions have underlying relationship attachment insecurities and for them lying becomes a survival skill to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
TIP: Be sure to make your love unconditional. Don't confuse the addict even further by saying I love you, but then behaving in such a way, such as screaming and yelling, that doesn't appear like love and looks a lot like potential abandonment.
They Lie To Preserve Their Addiction
An addict must lie and will do whatever it takes to maintain their addiction. If they acknowledged the seriousness of the problem or the harm they're causing themselves and others, they would be hard-pressed to continue this way of life. Their addictive logic, whether conscious or unconscious, is: I need drugs, and I to tell others whatever it takes to keep people off my back and to be able to get what I need for my next high. For the addict, lying becomes a matter of self-preservation. Lying is an addiction survival skill. Sadly, anything, or anyone, that will hinder their drug habit has no place in the addict's life.
Lying is Just Another Tool in the Avoidance Coping Skill Toolbox
We all cope with life in several different ways, including problem-focused coping, emotional-focused coping, and avoidance-focused coping. For the addict, avoidance-focused coping is the go-to set of tools from their toolbox. Some of the avoidance-focused coping skills include hiding behind humor, behavioral avoidance, emotional avoidance, venting emotions instead of processing emotions, and substance use. Substance abuse is an avoidance-focused coping strategy utilized to avoid painful or traumatic memories of the past, avoid unsettling and often frightening emotions of today, and avoid future withdrawal symptoms should they stop using drugs.
Lying is just another avoidance-focused coping skill. The addict will lie in an attempt to avoid hurting you and avoid disappointing you. Lying avoids the immediate hurt they will see in your eyes. Lying avoids the truth, and the truth is what begins to set the addict free from addiction. Honesty would require that the addict admits that what they are doing is physically killing them and emotionally destroying their loved ones. Such an admission would leave the addict with no other option but to start the process of change.
The Addicts Fear is a Motivator for Lying
Fear is the foundation of dishonesty. Under the addiction is a vast ocean of fears. The addict may lie to try to manipulate others so they can avoid these things they fear. The addict may fear that you are going to abandon them, fear you will not love them anymore, fear they will lose their job, and they may fear that you are right. However, the addict's greatest fear is stopping the supply of drugs which, at this point in the progression of addiction, is necessary for the addict to navigate life and numb out the painful emotions they feel.
Addicts know the consequences of their addictions, and admitting their conditions means they will have to face the consequences and make significant changes in their life. They may be afraid of quitting and want to avoid the long and challenging road to sobriety. However, most addicts do not realize that despite the journey to recovery being very difficult and overwhelming, it is usually worth the trouble to regain control of their lives. As the Alcoholics Anonymous AA Big Book describes it, the turning point is when we can no longer imagine a life with it, or without it.
Tip: Do the best that you can to create an environment and interactions where the addict feels safe enough, to be honest.
They Lie Due to a Desire to Escape the Negativity
Addicts often lie to themselves that their addictions will disappear and that things will work themselves out. They lie by believing that they have power over something that they are utterly powerless over. An addict will pretend and insist that everything is fine, avoid negativity, and continue using drugs or alcohol.
People with addictions dislike being reminded of the adverse effects of their behaviors. As a result, addicts lie to cover up their behaviors and to avoid being blamed and criticized by their loved ones. When talking to an addict about his or her condition, it is advisable to focus on the good things that will happen after treatment and not the worst if they do not.
TIP: Focus your communications on what you are feeling, and your love for them, instead of being critical and negative towards the family member that struggles with addiction. Example: "I love you, and I am terrified that I might lose you," versus, "What is wrong with you? Can't you see what you are doing to yourself and to our family?"
The Addict Lies Because of Shame
While on the surface, it may not appear this way, but behind all the lies and manipulation exist a deep-seated shame, a toxic shame. There is a big difference between guilt and shame.
At its most basic, shame is an emotion, but it has more significant physiological ties than many other emotions. Shame triggers the same sympathetic nervous response as fear, putting the individual into a state of flight, fight, or freeze. There is probably no more painful and challenging emotion than shame. Shame involves complete self-condemnation. It is a significant attack against the self in which the individual believes they will be found utterly unacceptable by society. As a result of its overwhelming force, shame causes feelings of disgrace and dishonor. A person who feels shame wants to hide from everyone.
In fact, and when shame becomes internalized and pervasive in our lives, we begin to believe we are unloved or unwanted, a failure, cannot do things right, horrible, terrible person, or that we are stupid. Over time, and with these types of negative messages, the individual begins to have intense and extensive feelings of inadequacy. As this shame continues to grow and fester, it creates even lower self-esteem and greater levels of anxiety and depression.
The fearful, sad, and disapproving look from a loved one's eyes can create intense shame within the addict. At their core, the addict knows what they are doing is emotionally killing their loved ones and physically killing themselves. However, no matter how much the addict may want to stop, the drugs have hijacked the brain, and the addict knows they must do whatever it takes, including lying to the ones they love the most, to be able to continue to feel the addictive beast.
TIP: Do not shame the addict into recovery. Doing so will only drive them deeper into toxic shame and deeper into addiction.
The Addict Lies To Manipulate You into Helping Them Continue in Addiction
The addict must lie to manipulate you into helping them continue their addiction. You may have just read that last sentence and said, "WTF? I do not help them continue their addiction, I am trying to help them stop, but I am afraid they are going to die." While it may feel like you are trying to help them, many loved ones are manipulated with lies from the addict into cosigning their addiction.
The addict must convince you that they are doing OK, even when they are not. They must convince you they have changed even when that couldn't be farther from the truth. And, most importantly, they must convince you to help them continue with drugs or alcohol.
Consider how many times you have told them, no, but the cunning addict manipulated you into saying yes. Consider how often you said, "This is the last time, and I mean it this time," but again, they manipulated you into giving in once again. Truth be told, the addict's addiction is beyond their ability to fund this addictive lifestyle. They need partners (you) to help them fund this addictive venture.
TIP: Learn that "NO" is a complete sentence. You do not have to explain, rationalize, or justify why the answer is no.
The Addict Lies Because They Are Good at It
Many addicts have been in active addiction for several years, and during this time, the addict has honed their deception skills. Lying has become second nature for the addict because of the frequency of lying. Many addicts have reported that they would catch themselves lying in situations where it would have been just as easy, to tell the truth in recovery. The addict has subconsciously learned that lying is normal. The experienced and cunning addict can manipulate situations to get what they want, avoid punishment, and con others to give them yet another chance.
The Lies Have Grown To The Point Of Unmanageability
If one lie is told, it is not unusual for another lie to be told to cover for the first one. The original lie grows into a series of lies. Many with addiction do not have a regular paying full-time job. But, how could they? Keeping an inventory of all of the lies is a full-time job for the addict. This job of habitually lying is exhausting. Once any lie from that series is disproven, things begin to unravel. The addict must become creative in formulating yet another web of description to keep everything from falling apart.
The Addict Lies Because Lying Leads to Rewards
The addict lies because lying is a process, which is stimulated by a reward. Just as an animal, we humans lie because we are expecting a reward. The habit of lying becomes part of our lives because when we lie, we get rewarded and get something we want, or we get rewarded by avoiding something we do not want. The reason why the addict continues to lies is that they got rewarded before for doing so. Their choice between lying and telling the truth would be lying because telling the truth would not benefit them, whereas lying rewards them. The more often the lie results in the reward, the stronger the reliance on lying becomes in similar situations.
The Addict Lies Because We Trained Them To
Human beings, yes, even the addict, are social creatures. The development of lying occurs in early childhood, and Lying forms within the context of relationships. Early in childhood, most behavior is reinforced by immediate, direct-acting contingencies. The contingencies supporting the lying repertoire in childhood seem straightforward. Children learn to lie to gain access to a reward, such as a cookie. Children learn to lie to avoid aversive stimulation, a punishment. It is within the context of punishment where we begin to teach and reinforce the behavior of lying.
Consistent with the previous example, a parent may see an empty cookie jar and ask their child, "Did you take the cookies?" If the child says yes, they may be punished, as when the parent responds by saying, "I told you no cookies, you're going to time-out!". The harsher the punishment than the greater the reinforcement of the development of the lying behavior in the child. Yelling, screaming, or spanking the child reinforces lying to avoid punishment behaviors of the child. So, we train children to lie.
Within this perspective, you can begin to examine how your behaviors and interactions with the addict may help train the addict to lie to you. Consider how many of your interactions with your loved one that struggles with addiction have resulted in you yelling, screaming, hitting, telling them to get out, or giving them the cold shoulder.
Another way that we train the addict to lie is that we model the behavior for them. Meaning, the addict observes us lie to them. Consider the times that you have said "No" but then gave in, or the times when you said, "This is the last time I am doing this, and I mean it this time." The discrepancy between our words and our behaviors can be very confusing at times. We may tell the addict that we love them, but then it becomes confusing when screaming, yelling, hitting, or giving them the cold shoulder and completely ignoring them. For the addict, these behaviors make the words I love you appear to be a lie.
TIP: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but say it and show it loving and kind way.
The Addict Lies to Themselves
Don't take the addict's lying personally. The addict lies to everyone, including themselves. Addicts lie to protect themselves from the painful truth that their drinking or drug abuse is no longer under their control. No one likes to admit they've lost their willpower, but that's what happens with addiction.
An addict's entire existence revolves around their next hit. They will do anything to avoid the feeling of withdrawal. To protect themselves from realizing the harm their actions are causing and to provide a rationalization for their next hit, they convince themselves of the lies of addiction.
The lies that the addict belies keep them trapped in denial. Some of the examples of lies the addict tells themselves and believes include:
- "I don't have a problem."
- "I am just doing it for fun."
- "I can stop anytime I want to."
- "It's not that much."
- "I am not as bad as [insert name]"
- "I am not hurting anyone."
- "Yeah, I may drink or use some, but at least I am not [fill in the blank]."
- "The Doctor prescribed this medicine, so it is OK to take them."
- "I am under a lot of stress, and I need it."
- "I don't care about the long-term consequences of this"
- "I can stop if I want to."
Lying is the Foundation of Every Relapse
The AA Big Book pg. 58 "Remember that we deal with alcohol (or drugs)—cunning, baffling, powerful!" and addiction certainly is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease. In 1939 when Bill and Dr. Bob created Alcoholics Anonymous, they knew firsthand at drug and alcohol's power of twisting our thoughts, cunning us to believe the lie and leaving our loved ones, and self, baffled that we used again.
Part of the cunningness of addiction is drugs ability of the addict to con themselves into relapsing. Believing the lies that the addict tells themselves is at the foundation of every relapse. Some of these lies that the addict believes which lead to relapse include:
- "I will do it just this once"
- "It is no big deal."
- "It will be different this time."
- "No one will ever know."
- "I can't deal with this without."
- "No one ever trusts me or believes me, so why not"
- "I have already screwed everything else up, so why not"
- "I really don't care, so screw it."