Addicts lie. It’s practically part of the disorder. They lie to themselves: “I don’t have a problem with heroin. It’s under control.” They lie to other people: “I’m not high.”
Some addicts may even really believe what they’re saying when they say it – or at least feel that since there is no black-and-white proof to the contrary that they may as well be telling the truth, which is close enough.
So why do they do it? Lying and keeping up with what they’ve told different people or maintaining a façade to support their version of the truth can be just as tiring as trying to maintain an addiction.
When someone takes an addictive substance repeatedly for a long period of time, it begins to create changes in the structure and function brain. One of the areas of the brain significantly impacted by drug use is the area that controls impulse or compulsive behaviors. That is, addicts may lie before they even think it through, telling a story in answer to a question or to give off a certain impression in a situation, even when the truth would be completely unobjectionable.
This is no excuse or a blanket reason for all lying among addicted people. Certainly, addicts do tell the truth in some situations. So why do they lie so often?
To Keep Getting High
If a lie will help an addict to get more drugs, get the money to buy drugs, or get out of doing something so he can get high, then he will tell that lie and feel justified doing it. Addicts do whatever they have to do to make sure that they have a steady supply of their drug of choice and an uninterrupted ability to use that drug as often as they like. If you expose the lie that enables them to do those things then you become the enemy – even if it’s clear that you are absolutely correct in your assertions.
To Avoid a Fight
Though an addicted person will certainly fight with you over whether or not he is telling the truth if it will help him to get out of there and go get high, his ultimate goal is to get high – not to fight with you. He may lie in an effort to avoid making you mad or rekindle an ongoing argument that will do nothing but cause him problems or potentially cause you to make big changes in your life that impact his ability to get high.
A lie told by an addict may be told just as much for his benefit as it is for yours. He may not want to deal with the fact that his life is changing for the worse due to his use of drugs and alcohol. Lying to you about what he has taken or how much, where he got the money to buy something, or looking for/going to work may be his way of avoiding the fact that he spends all his time getting high and doing pretty much nothing else. Denial is a powerful thing.
Just because an addict may be vehement that his lies are true – despite proof that they are not – does not mean that he actually believes what he is saying. He may know very well that the choices he is making are not in any way okay – or that they are harmful to the people around him – and that there is no good excuse for his behavior. Acknowledging this out loud to others may be painful, so when asked a question that would reveal choices that are embarrassing to him, the addicted person may choose to lie rather than tell the embarrassing truth.
Many addicts live under the mistaken view that their needs are primary, that rules don’t apply to them, and that their situation and choices are unique and justified – even when they would never tolerate the same behaviors or choices in someone else. They may not feel that they “owe” anyone an explanation and therefore feel justified in saying – or doing – anything they deem necessary in the moment to accomplish their goals.
Families of addicts never want to believe that someone they love is struggling with such a significant drug or alcohol disorder that she is killing herself and ruining her life. They want to believe that it’s a phase, that it’s “normal” recreational use, and that it’s not a big deal or anything that needs to be dealt with. Because they want their loved one to be okay, they may look the other way when their addicted loved one is obviously lying to them.
Similarly, families with addiction may simply be exhausted asking questions and pointing out the truth. If an addict can get away with even the most obvious lie, in most cases, she will.
What to Do About It
Drug addiction is a medical disorder, and its symptoms and characteristics can not be eradicated without directly addressing the root cause: ongoing drug and alcohol use. Through detox and treatment, patients can safely stop using all illicit substances, and then begin the process of learning how to employ positive coping mechanisms (including honesty with oneself and others) and avoid relapse.
Trust is easily broken and exceedingly hard to mend. It can take months or even years for family members to trust again, but it is possible with the right support and therapeutic treatment for the addicted person and loved ones.