Why People With an Addiction May Lie, Even to Loved Ones

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Individuals dealing with an addiction may lie to cover up addictive behavior for a variety of reasons, so don't take it personally. Here are some of the reasons why they may lie and how you can try to deal with this behavior effectively.

Avoiding Confrontation

Someone with an addiction may often want to avoid confrontation because they've used their addictive behavior as a coping strategy for so long, they often don't have other well-developed ways of dealing with the stresses of life.

When tackling a difficult topic, try to stay matter-of-fact about it. Use language to reflect your own perspective, rather than blaming your friend or loved one.

Avoiding Forced Change

In some ways, someone with an addiction may be stubborn. They know their behavior isn’t in anyone’s best interests, especially their own, but have decided it works for them, and they are sticking to it. They might lie about the extent of their addictive behavior, because they want to avoid you pressuring them to change.

Eventually, they can and do change when they realize the consequences of their behavior will continue to worsen unless they do something different.

Try to provide information that might influence your friend or loved one to make up their own mind to change, instead of trying to persuade them to change.

Escaping Negativity

A person who is dealing with an addiction can often see their behavior as a kind of holding pattern, hoping things will work themselves out and the addiction will disappear.

They don't want you to remind them about the negative aspects of their behavior, especially if it is in a blaming way. When they feel constantly criticized by loved ones, they may lie to cover up their behavior.

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

Loved Ones May Enable Lying

There may be times when you know your loved one just lied because you know what really happened. But for some reason, you might allow them to lie without letting them know that you know.

This sends one of two messages:

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

In this case, either avoid discussing the subject completely or simply state what you know happened, rather than going along with the lie.

Brain Changes

An addiction such as alcohol use disorder can cause damage to parts of the brain such as the frontal lobe. Such damage has been shown to increase the potential for deviant behavior such as increased risk-taking or lying.

If you are constantly catching your loved one in a lie, it's possible that this behavior is physiological. This is all the more reason to be sensitive to your loved one's struggles, and do as much as you can to help them turn things around.

Life Without Addiction Can Seem Like a Void

For someone with an addiction, life can often revolve around their addictive behavior. Although they plan to quit “one day,” for today, life without their addiction seems 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.

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

Avoiding Shame

Addictions often make the people around them behave in ways that cause them embarrassment and regret. When you point this out, they ay lie to avoid feeling ashamed.

Going along with such 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.

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  1. Ester M. Nakamura-Palacios, Rodrigo S. M. Souza, Maria P. Zago-Gomes, Adriana M. F. de Melo, Flávia S. Braga, Tadeu T. A. Kubo, Emerson L. Gasparetto. Gray Matter Volume in Left Rostral Middle Frontal and Left Cerebellar Cortices Predicts Frontal Executive Performance in Alcoholic SubjectsAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/acer.12308

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