5 Reasons That Addicts Lie
Most people with addiction could not pass a pathological liar test. This is because lying is a hallmark of addiction. The disease of addiction hijacks the brain and steals empathy, clarity and awareness of one’s problems and the suffering of those around them. It fosters narcissistic behavior and loss of moral compass. And it leads to behaviors that the person often tries to hide or deny, as well as glossing over or withholding the truth.
Some people are more aware than others of when they are lying and some are so lost in the disease they don’t recognize the falsehoods that flow from their mouths and would be shocked to see them manifest on a compulsive liar test.
There are many reasons addicts behave in ways that are similar to pathological liars. Here are five:
1. Distorted beliefs caused by early trauma
Most experts agree that early childhood trauma can lead to addiction as people try to self-soothe the pain of their past and numb difficult feelings. This can lead to distorted thinking about oneself and reality. “Addicts suffer from a distorted belief system which begins in early childhood and stems from caregivers,” says addiction specialist and life coach Holly Anne Smith. It may begin as an attempt to quell inner pain, but once a person becomes both psychologically and physically addicted, they lie to protect the addiction. “At some point the distortion in thinking allows the person to believe their own truth or lies.” They develop a worldview that supports the addiction and blurs out anything that challenges it. This can include seeing a loved one who interferes with addiction as the liar.
2. Defense mechanisms
Addiction is a disease that fools people into believing they do not have a problem, which leads to lying. “It takes hold when the addict doesn’t want to see or acknowledge the severity of what’s happening or to accept what that might mean,” says Erin Parisi, a licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional. “It’s in the disease’s best interest to stay below the radar; after all, if the addict or their loved ones realized what was happening early on, the disease might be thwarted before it gets a chance to really take hold.” Defense mechanisms are often subconscious and can take many forms, she says, including rationalizing, minimizing, avoiding, intellectualizing, manipulating, entitlement, blaming, projecting, threatening, accusing and justifying.
3. Lack of self-awareness
It depends on the person, their history and the extent of their addiction, but lying can be an automatic response. “Lying can become so ingrained or automatic that they don’t necessarily know that they’re lying,” says Parisi. “Often addicts say that it happens without their even thinking about it.” The person with addiction does not think, “Which lie will I use today,” but certain phrases become a standard response to themselves and anyone who questions their behavior, including:
- I can stop if I want, I just don’t want to.
- My doctor prescribed it, so it’s okay.
- I don’t have withdrawal symptoms so it can’t be that bad.
- I’m not prostituting or homeless under a bridge, so I’m not an addict.
- Nothing that bad has happened.
- Maybe I’m an addict but I’m a “functioning” addict.
4. Guilt, shame and believing they don’t need help
“Most addicts and alcoholics feel they can deal with their issue without any outside help,” says Frank Say, MS, CAADC, an intervention specialist. “Bringing in professionals can be seen as a weakness and simply further the shame of what the individual is going through.” He points out that addiction has a way of sneaking up on a person and by the time they realize they have lost control, it is too late. “Losing control is often a loss of pride and dignity and that is something most people, not just addicts, would like to keep private,” he says.
Many people dwell for long periods of time in active addiction, believing they are not. Denial is perhaps the most insidious and seemingly impenetrable part of the disease. “This means denying that a problem exists, denying the severity of the problem, denying the harm they’ve done to people that they love or to themselves and their bodies,” says Parisi. “To acknowledge the existence and severity of the problem would also mean having to take action to address it ― meaning stop using, change their lifestyle, end relationships that may be unhealthy but have meaning, change jobs and more.”
In recovery, some people will penetrate the veil of denial that has cloaked their ability to see their own problem clearly, but not everyone is willing or able to make the changes necessary to support continued sobriety. Denial can rear its head again if people in recovery are not constantly working on staying sober and surrounding themselves with people who will help recognize denial and give them a metaphorical compulsive liar test.
Lies Help the Addiction Win
“Being in recovery for over 13 years, I think most addicts know they are lying and know they have a problem,” contends Say. “Most lying is due to survival, in that it is the survival of the addiction. It’s the idea of bringing the addiction to a halt with rehab and therapy that is so terrifying to the addict.”
Still, people with addiction may be surprised if they failed a pathological liar test.
“Of course, there are lies that are told intentionally and with full knowledge,” Parisi adds, “but it seems that the line gets blurrier and blurrier.”
By Laurie Sue Brockway
1. The Narcissism of Addiction
2. 7 Honest Reasons Why Addicts Lie
3. Denial in Addiction
4. Why Do Addicts Lie and Manipulate
5. The Moral Relevance of Addiction
6. Overcoming Obstacles to Empathy: The Use of Experiential Learning in Addictions Counseling Courses
7. Psychotherapy and Alcoholics Anonymous