Why People With Addiction Lie

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Addiction leads to many changes in behavior, including in how people interact with others. This often includes lying to others, including their loved ones. While this happens for various reasons, including as a way to hide signs of addiction, it can create serious problems in interpersonal relationships.

A person with an addiction may lie about how often they use a substance or engage in a behavior. Or they may lie about where they are or what they are doing to cover up the fact that they are drinking alcohol, using substances, or engaging a something related to a behavioral addiction.

What Is Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic, treatable medical disease that involves interactions among genetics, brain circuits, life experiences, and the environment.

Learning more about why people who have an addiction may lie can provide insight. It can also help friends, family, and others better understand how to respond to this behavior more 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 is an example of enabling an addiction.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling refers to doing things for a person that they can do for themselves. These behaviors allow the person to continue their addiction without experiencing the consequences of their own behaviors. 

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 may 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.

Denial

A person who has an addiction may simply be in denial that their behavior is a problem. However, they may be aware that other people might not feel the same way—which then results in lying.

By not being forthcoming, people are able to then stay in denial about the problem. 

To Avoid Being Caught

Lying often serves another important purpose, which is to avoid getting caught. This might be due to the fact that the individual is addicted to an illicit substance, and they are concerned about the legal and judicial ramifications of their addiction coming to light. 

In other cases, they might be worried about the potential personal costs of being caught, such as losing their relationships or job.

Brain Chemistry Changes

Addiction can create changes in how the brain works, including in the reward systems that often play a part in different types of goal-directed behavior. Addictive substances and behaviors create intense highs that serve to reinforce the experience.

Over time, the brain adapts to these addictive substances, changing the brain's chemistry so that it is unable to active those reward paths on its own. This fuels the need to use the substance in order to continue experiencing the same pleasant feelings.

Lying might occur because people are no longer making rational decisions about their lives and their behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you tell when someone with an addicton is lying?

    It isn't always easy to tell if someone is lying, and some people may be much better able to disguise their dishonesty. One of the best ways to tell if you are being lied to is to notice changes in characteristic behaviors or to corroborate what the person is telling you using other sources of information.

    A few red flags that might indicate that someone is lying include being vague and repeating your questions before answering them.

  • What are some common lies addicts tell?

    People with addiction may lie about whether they use certain substances or engage in certain behaviors. They may lie about what they were doing, who they were with, and what they spent money on. Other lies they might tell include how they obtained a substance, where they got the money to pay for the drug, and how the drug is affecting their life.

  • How does alcohol or drug use affect the brain?

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs interfere with the ability of neurons to send, receive, and process information using neurotransmitters. Substances often work by mimicking the actions of neurotransmitters and activating certain receptors in the brain. Other substances interfere with the brain's ability to reabsorb neurotransmitters, which causes them to remain present in the brain in larger quantities.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. 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

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Introducing the human brain. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.

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