Recognize Addict Behavior With Childhood Games

5 Games Addicts Might Play

Addict behavior can sometimes be real-life versions of games we played as children. Back then, it was all in fun. Now, it can be deadly serious. This take on the metaphor of game playing presents five of the most popular addict games that can hurt you if you don’t realize you're playing.


Bluffing is a deceptive move in the game of poker that also appears in many other games of deception. It involves the pretense that everything is the way it should be, while in reality, you're being duped. Bluffing is the most popular of all the addict games.

In many ways, addiction is the ultimate game of deception because becoming addicted means fooling yourself as well as those around you.

And just like a poker player, an addict will perfect the poker face, the butter-wouldn’t-melt facial expression and tone of voice that convinces you, at least long enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, that it's you who is in the wrong, for not trusting them.

How to Cope: Trust your instincts and don’t go along with a lie to avoid conflict.

Hide and Seek

The addict's game of hide and seek involves the addict concealing something and the people around him seeking an explanation or some evidence to account for a situation that just doesn’t make sense. As well as hiding information and hiding his or her addictive behavior, the addict will often hide the evidence of his or her addiction.

People addicted to illegal drugs obviously have to be reasonably discreet in terms of where they store and keep their drugs and paraphernalia—needles, pipes, etc.—often hiding them from family members. Alcoholics may have hidden bottles around the house. Sex addicts may hide their pornography, website links, or evidence of affairs.

The motives for playing hide and seek by someone with addiction seem obvious until the evidence is found and a family member wonders how the addict expected the evidence not to be found.

How to Cope: Respect your loved one’s privacy, but when you stumble on evidence of addiction, don’t accept a weak explanation or excuse.


The game of taboo is a way that the addiction can be kept secret. It's also a way to keep family members in a position of enabling the substance user by threatening the risk of exposing the addiction, making the whistleblower responsible for the subsequent social shaming of the family.

Just like the game of taboo, the addict creates a situation where speaking directly about what's happening is taboo and thus forbidden.

Playing taboo is common among families in which there is one or more alcoholics, some form of family violence, and in which sexual abuse, and in particular, incest occurs.

How to Cope: Break the silence and tell someone who can help—a teacher, social worker, doctor, priest, or police officer, or call a helpline for more advice.

Cops and Robbers

Stealing is an activity that addicts sometimes resort to, usually, but not always, in desperation. Much of the theft that occurs through break-and-enters and street robberies is to finance drug addiction rather than to put food on the table. And the spouses of addicts are well aware of the missing cash from their wallets and purses or from their joint bank account.

But the game of cops and robbers is not limited to theft—people with addictions break the law through drug possession and trafficking, through indiscretions on the internet, and parents may be unaware of their legal responsibility for vandalism carried out by their children when under the influence.

How to Cope: Protect yourself and your children first and foremost, not the addict. The real cops are there to help protect you if necessary.

Stuck in the Mud

Addicts can stay stuck in their addiction for many years. Their determination not to change can be astounding. And just like the childhood game of stuck in the mud, if they get to you, you can get stuck too.

It's natural for change to take time and to progress through stages. But if you get stuck along with your loved one, you may actually be keeping them stuck, too.

Often, it's only when consequences such as the loss of a relationship are recognized by the addict that they will actually move into action.

How to Cope: You don’t have to leave the person with an addiction—although it's a good idea if they're abusive—do move on with your own life.

Note: The concept of addict games is not based on scientific research, although the interactions described are commonly experienced by people close to those with addictions. Game playing in relationships is not a given for anyone, regardless of whether or not they have an addiction. This article is intended to provide support to people who are struggling to cope with someone else's addiction, not to stigmatize any type of addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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