Why Do Addicts Lie?
Addiction can change the person you love and once trusted into someone you don’t recognize. Defined as a “compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance,” addiction affects the brain and changes behavior. Addictive behavior continues even in the face of negative consequences. Synonyms like dependency, obsession, and enslavement help paint the picture of addiction.
It’s hard for friends and family to understand how their loved one, who may have been honest and forthright before their addiction, has now become an accomplished liar. They often feel shocked and betrayed as their loved one is caught in lie after lie. They don’t understand that addicts are sick and suffering, with an overwhelming craving for the one thing that makes them feel better.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says addiction is a brain disorder, causing such an intense need for the addictive substance that it becomes all the addict can think about. That need eventually replaces everything he or she once enjoyed. NIDA explains, “…addiction can take over your life. You might do almost anything to keep taking the drug, like steal or lie.”
How Addictive Substances Rewire the Brain
When we enjoy something especially pleasurable, dopamine levels in our brains are increased, triggering bliss, a sense of well-being, and motivation. Because addictive substances like drugs or alcohol trigger such unnaturally high levels of dopamine, the response is intensified, reinforcing a strong desire to repeat the experience. After time, the brain adapts to the presence of the addictive substance until it becomes unable to activate the reward system naturally, so it must rely on the drug or alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
Eventually, the addict will do whatever it takes to feel good, or to just feel “normal.” The part of the brain that controls morality and judgment may have become damaged, affecting the ability to make rational choices. The capacity for objective thought has become diminished. Addicts become masters of deception, saying or doing whatever is necessary to avoid the consequences of their actions, to obtain more of the addictive substance, and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The Lies of Addiction
- In a way, lying about their addiction becomes an act of self-preservation. Addicts often feel such an overwhelming need for the addictive substance, they may believe they can’t survive without it. They may feel that they are forced to deal with more stress or other problems than most people, and that alcohol or drugs is necessary for them to function.
- The reality of their situation may be too much to bear. In times of lucidity, they may feel shame and hopelessness. To avoid seeing the anger and disappointment expressed by their loved ones, addicts may even construct their own reality. They may tell others they’re no longer drinking or using drugs, and talk about positive things happening in their lives. The addict may come to believe his or her own lies.
- They may become in such denial of their own behavior they come to believe loved ones are actually at fault, and causing problems in the relationship. The addict may think he or she can handle the drugs or alcohol, it’s the family who’s trying to control their right to behave and live their life as they wish.
Importance of Family Support
Loving an addict often means living in a state of stress, fear, and chaos. Family members can help by creating a supportive environment where lies are faced and calmly discussed. Consider meeting with an addiction specialist for guidance on treatment options, to learn how to stage an intervention, and to obtain educational resources. Encourage the addict to attend AA or NA, and begin attending family support groups like Al-Anon and Alateen. Family support can make all the difference for recovery.
In our holistic approach to substance abuse recovery, Midwest Recovery Centers focuses on strengthening and supporting the entire person – mind, body, and spirit. Our underlying philosophy for treating prescription or illegal drug abuse is based on the principles of 12-step programs, emphasizing accountability, respect, and recovery.
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Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.