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My Addicted Loved One Lies All the Time

Is Lying Part of Addiction?


Updated June 19, 2014

Lying is so common among people with addictions that it is often thought to be part of the process of addiction. But why do people with addictions lie? And what can you do about it?

They Lie To Cover Up the Addiction

Although not all addictive behaviors are against the law, many are. Even those that aren't are highly stigmatized, even if they are socially encouraged in moderation. It becomes second nature for people with addictions to cover up their addictive behavior.

Tip: Don't take lying personally

They Lie to Avoid Confrontation

Although family members often find people with addictions to be confrontational, in reality, they often want to avoid confrontation. They rely heavily on their addictive behavior as a way of coping, and often do not have other well-developed ways of coping with the demands and stresses of life. Being confronted by another person is very stressful, and that is something they have a hard time coping with.

Tip: When tackling a difficult topic, try to stay matter-of-fact about it. Use language to reflect your own perspective, rather than blaming the person with the addiction.

People With Addictions Don’t Want to be Forced to Change

People with addictions tend to have a stubborn streak. Even though they may find their addictive behavior pleasurable in the early stages, intense persistence is required for an addiction to develop. They have to continue doing it despite unpleasant consequences.

This makes it very hard for them to handle criticism. They know first hand that what they are doing isn’t in anyone’s best interests, especially their own, but they have decided that it works for them, and they are sticking to it. Neither you nor anyone else will persuade them otherwise.

People with addictions can and do change, often without help. However, they do this when they feel ready, or when they realize the consequences of their behavior will continue to worsen unless they change. They will lie, often about the extent of their addictive behavior, because they want to avoid you pressuring them to change.

Tip: Try to give information that might influence the person to make their own mind up to change, rather than trying to persuade them to change.

They Want to Escape Negativity

People with addictions often see their behavior as a kind of holding pattern, hoping that things will work themselves out and they won’t need the addiction any more. A good example is the gambler who believes he will quit after one big win.

The last thing someone with an addiction wants is to be reminded of negative aspects of their behavior, especially if it is in a blaming way. Relationships can become very negative experiences for them if they feel constantly criticized by their loved ones, and so they feel they have to cover up their behavior all the time with lies.

Tip: Try to focus on what will be better if things change, not what will be worse if they don’t.

Others Often Go Along With the Lies

You know your loved one has told a lie. You know what really happened. But for some reason, you allow them to lie without letting them know that you know.

This sends one of two messages:

Either: "You told a lie and I didn’t notice – so if you lie again, I might not notice next time either."

Or: "You told a lie and I did notice, but I’m pretending to believe you – so if you lie again, I’ll pretend I believe you that time as well."

Tip: Either avoid discussing the subject completely, or simply state what you know happened, rather than asking questions and going along with the answers.

People Don’t Make It Clear What They Want and Expect

You hate that your loved one goes out drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in addictive behavior all the time, but you think they will dislike you or think you aren’t “cool” if you say anything about it. You reason that what they are doing isn’t really hurting anyone, and isn’t really that bad. You think, “I’ll wait until something bad happens and then I’ll mention it.”

The problem for the person with the addiction is that they didn’t even know you had a problem with what they were doing. By the time they sense disapproval, they are entrenched in their addictive behavior, and lying seems like the simplest thing to do.

Tip: Give feedback gently and early, preferably as soon as their behavior bothers you.

Life Without an Addiction Can Seem Like a Void

When people become addicted, their lives revolve around their addictive behavior or substance. Although they may wish to quit “one day,” for today, life without their addiction can seem frighteningly empty. If you don’t understand how this emptiness drives people back into their addictive behavior, they will tune in to that, and lie to shut you up.

Tip: Mention in a kind and positive way what you would like to see happening instead of the addictive behavior, preferably before addictive behavior becomes part of your routine.

People With Addictions Feel Ashamed

No-one likes being humiliated. And addictions often make people behave in ways that cause them embarrassment and regret. Having this pointed out by another person, particularly someone they want to think well of them, causes them great shame.

Many theorists believe that shame underlies the process of addiction. John Bradshaw, a recovered alcoholic who went on to be a counselor and prominent author, believed that toxic shame keeps people stuck in addictions and past problems.

Patrick Carnes, a leading authority on sex addiction, also considers shame to be the driving force behind compulsive sexual behavior. This view is supported by authors such as Susan Cheever, a self-proclaimed sex addict and recovering alcoholic.

Remembering that your loved one feels ashamed, embarrassed or humiliated by certain subjects, and particularly their shortcomings arising from their addictions, can be helpful in being more compassionate. However, going along with what you know to be a lie is a form of enabling that may avoid outward embarrassment, but will do nothing to relieve your loved one’s inner emotional pain.

Tip: Build up your loved one’s pride in areas of their life that are unrelated to their addiction.

Couples counseling can give you and your partner space and guidance to develop greater honesty in your relationship, as well as helping your addicted partner to quit.

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