How to Control Compulsive Lying When You Have an Addiction

When Other People Just Don't Understand

Woman talking to doctor with fingers cross behind her back
Lying to your doctor is not a smart move. PhotoAlto/Eric Audras / Getty Images

Lying about your addiction, particularly if your addictive behavior is illegal, can become second nature. It can even give a sense of power – “I got away with that.” But lying is extremely damaging to relationships, family members are often aware that they are being lied to, and many people with addictions would prefer to be more truthful, but just don’t know how.

Try following these tips on controlling compulsive lying. They will give you some ideas to get you started on building trust and easing your conscience.

1. Stop Lying to Yourself

This might seem like a strange tip, but research shows that people with addictions actually do lie to themselves in a number of different ways.

Tip: Lying to yourself may be making your addiction worse. Being honest with yourself is the first step in becoming honest with others.

2. Know Who You Can Trust – When It’s In Your Best Interests

There are some people who will always want what is in your best interests, and they are a great place to start when being truthful is new. They include your doctor, and any counselors or therapists you may be seeing. These people are trained to understand and help people with addictions, but they can’t help you if you don’t tell them what is really going on. In fact, lying to your doctor about your addiction could even put you at risk of getting advice or a prescription that is the opposite of what you actually need. This could even cause you harm.

Tip: Be honest with your doctor. Even if you don’t tell them everything, at least answer their questions truthfully.

3. It’s None of Their Business – Or Is It?

Everyone has the right to privacy. The fact that you have an addiction is your private business, and you should be in control of who has access to that information. But in some cases, your addiction might also impact someone, making it their business, too.

Before writing off another person's right to know the truth about your addiction, think about whether it has any impact on them. Members of your immediate family, for example, will very likely be impacted by your addiction, even if it is simply by your lack of availability for your relationship with them. Anyone who may be affected by the consequences of your addiction also has a right to know the truth, including anyone you have hurt while under the influence.

Tip: If you think your addiction may impact another person, consider telling them the truth.

4. They Can’t Cope With The Truth –- But Maybe They Are Already

You may think you have to keep your addictive behavior secret from people you are close to, such as your partner, adult children, or your parents, because you think it would be more than they could cope with. Although they are likely to worry, in reality, they would have a much harder time coping with the serious consequences of your addiction, such as legal and health problems, if they were unaware of your addiction.

However, you should be careful in talking to young children about addictions, and this should ideally be done with the support of a trained family therapist. Having a parent who uses alcohol or drugs makes it more likely that your child will use these substances, so be careful about disclosure and particularly to never use alcohol or drugs in front of them, or offer them alcohol or drugs.

Tip: Even if you don’t proactively tell your partner, adult child or parent about your addiction, understand that if they ask about it, they can probably cope with a truthful answer.

5. All They Do Is Criticize Me – But They Could Just Listen

The chances are that the news of your addiction will cause some initial upset. You may, indeed, be subject to criticism. You may also hear some negative comments which are not criticism, but which you perceive as such. It can be helpful to see the difference. It can be hard to know how to talk to someone with an addiction, especially if there have been past lies and hurts.

If the person in question cares about you, they will want what is best for you, which is that you are well and happy. They may have a period of adjustment as they accept your addiction, but they may also be your greatest source of support through overcoming your addiction. Also, knowing what is going on can help family members find their own support.

Tip: If you expect criticism, make a point of reflecting on your own behavior in case they have a point. You can also ask your loved one to listen without criticizing.

6. They Don’t Understand – But Maybe They Could With Help

Perhaps your loved one is not as worldly-wise as you, but they might be. And although you might think that understanding someone with an addiction is something they are not capable of, often people with addictions are surprised at how well their loved ones understand what they are going through. On the other hand, they may have a hard time understanding, but after a period of adjustment, may well do all they can to understand.

Many treatment services now offer education and support sessions for family members for precisely this reason. After learning about addiction, family members can be extremely supportive.

Tip: Give your loved one the chance to understand by educating them about your condition.

7. I Don’t Care About Them – But Maybe I Should

Sometimes people with addictions get into relationships with other people for what they can get out of it – money, drugs, sex and social status are all common motivators. But by being in exploitative relationships with other people, you are setting yourself up for more shame and regret than you realize.

You may not feel you are doing the other person any harm. You may even feel they are getting as much out of the relationship as you are. But the time you spend exploiting them is time neither of you will ever get back. You are essentially depriving them of the chance to have a genuine relationship with someone who really cares about them.

When the relationship ends, you will be left with the shame of knowing you have spoiled part of someone else’s life. These shameful feelings are very unpleasant, and can often make an addiction worse, as you attempt to escape them through addictive behavior.

Tip: Think about whether you want the responsibility of having impacted negatively on someone else’s life.

8. Allow Your Loved One the Gift of Forgiveness

By shackling your relationship with secrets and lies, you deny your loved one the opportunity to forgive you. They may be well aware of your lies, or at least suspect, but they can’t be freed from their hurt and resentment unless they know the truth. Then they have the option to forgive you for past lies and hurts.

Of course, having your loved one’s forgiveness will probably feel pretty good to you too.

Tip: Apologize if you have hurt someone you love. They might just forgive you.

2 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.
  1. Iñiguez G, Govezensky T, Dunbar R, Kaski K, Barrio RA. Effects of deception in social networksProc Biol Sci. 2014;281(1790):20141195. doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.1195

  2. Martínez-gonzález JM, Vilar lópez R, Becoña iglesias E, Verdejo-garcía A. Self-deception as a mechanism for the maintenance of drug addiction. Psicothema. 2016;28(1):13-9. doi:10.7334/psicothema2015.139

Additional Reading
  • Becoña E, Martínez Ú, Calafat A, Juan M, Fernández-Hermida J, Secades-Villa R. Parental styles and drug use: A review. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy;19(1):1-10. 2012.
  • Hedva, B. Betrayal, Trust, and Forgiveness: A Guide to Emotional Healing and Self-Renewal (Revised). Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts. 2001.
  • Martínez-González J, López R, Iglesias E, Verdejo-García A. Self-deception as a mechanism for the maintenance of drug addiction. Psicothema 28(1):13-19. 2016.
  • Orford, J. et al. Coping With Drug and Alcohol Problems: The Experience of Family Members in Three Contrasting Cultures. Routledge. 2005.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.