Addiction and dishonesty
9- Addiction and Dishonesty
There is a saying “How do you know when an addict is lying? Their lips are moving”. By the time your loved one has become addicted, unfortunately this quote is not too far from truth. But by understanding the nature of the disease your loved one is suffering from you can emotionally distance yourself from their dishonesty, to not fall victim to the effects of addiction on your lives.
- Why addicts lie
- Dishonesty: nature of the disease
- Impact of dishonesty on the family
- How to cope with dishonesty
Why addicts lie
An addict lies to protect his addiction. He lies to anyone who might threaten his drug use, and that includes himself. To continue using drugs the addict must first confront his own conscience. No one wants to think of himself as a drug addict. The very term is a condemnation. The word “addict” is associated with the beggar in the street, the pathetic wretch with a needle in his arm, the scruffy homeless man. To admit you are an addict is to admit that you suffer from a disease you have no power to stop or control, a disease that threatens your family, your home, your job, your reputation, and your integrity. The burden of shame that attaches to drug use is heavy, too heavy to bear. Also, for the addict to admit he has a problem would mean he might have to do something about it — he might have to stop using drugs. But that’s not an option, so the addict denies against all the evidence that he has a problem. He lies to himself, makes up stories and excuses to convince himself that the drug use is under control, that it’s something he can stop when he wants. Then the addict lies to everyone else in his life. Having convinced himself that his drug use is no big deal, he is not going to let anyone else change his mind. To all questions or comments or concerns by family and friends the addict has an answer, an answer designed to hide the out-of-control nature of his drug problem.
Dishonesty: the nature of the disease
In order to understand why addicts become dishonest, some understanding is needed about the nature of the disease they suffer from. By definition, when a person is suffering from a disease is because an organ, structure or system in their body has failed or functions abnormally. In the case of addiction, the prolonged abuse of drugs adversely affects the brain’s structure, changes its normal functions and making it dependent on drugs to function normally. Depending on the drug and the method used to ingest it, the result may be euphoria or a boost in energy. Drugs can initially produce these effects because they affect the brain’s communication system. But prolonged use leads to the development of the disease of addiction because the brain structure has changed and now is dependent on drugs to function normally. Although there is increasing evidence that a similar process happens in the brain’s communication system and structure with those suffering from behavioral addictions, more research is needed to prove this.
There are two symptoms prevalent in the mind of those of us who have developed the disease of addiction, they are:
Obsession is an unwelcome, uncontrollable and persistent thought, image or emotion that takes over a person’s thinking. In the case of an addict, the obsession is with drugs, which we abuse despite the harm done to ourselves and those around us. This is because the feelings of euphoria created by drugs are intense – and we seek endlessly to recreate those first highs. As addicts, we become obsessed with finding and using drugs because the effect of drugs on the brain is — though unnatural — very powerful. Drugs produce the illusion that we are powerful and in control. We take drugs and suddenly find ourselves capable of doing things we normally fear. We feel ecstatic, carefree and confident to overcome any problem – and the brain likes these feelings, even though they are unnatural. It is this cycle that leads to our obsession.
One of our biggest obsessions as chronic addicts is our determination to prove we can manage our drug use and that we are normal. Very likely, the fact that we are powerless over our drug use is too hard for us to acknowledge. So we try anything to prove we are in control of our drug use. If you are a chronic addict still fighting against admitting to your disease, ask yourself how many times you have tried using drugs in moderation and have failed. How many times have you promised yourself you would not use drugs, only to find yourself days later in a blackout or at the end of another run?
The second symptom prevalent to our minds is insanity. Insanity can be defined as thinking that is not whole, rational, logical, or based in reality. Our thinking becomes abnormal due to the powerful and unnatural ways in which drugs disrupt how our brains send, receive and process information. We lose the ability to make sane decisions and judgments.
Our insane way of thinking leads us to harmful behaviours and actions that ultimately make our life chaotic. How many times have we fooled ourselves into doing drugs again, believing that this time we can manage them and that the results will be different? How many times have we abused drugs despite all the evidence we have of the destruction to our families and ourselves. Those around us see our behaviour as crazy, but to us it seems normal.
There are certain insane thinking patterns and character traits common to most chronic addicts. Below is a description of some of them:
Denial is a defence mechanism we use to convince ourselves and others that we do not have a problem with drugs. We may not even be aware we are in denial because drug abuse has impaired our ability to think rationally. But being in denial keeps us in our addiction despite all the harm our drug use causes us and others. Those in 12 Step programs say, “Addiction is the only disease that tells the sufferer that the disease doesn’t exist”. Denial is our way of avoiding the painful reality of our addiction. Because we are too frightened to admit we have become addicts, we simply deny that there is a problem. Ultimately, denial enables us to live in a fantasy, a place that is familiar to us and where we feel safe despite how much pain we may be experiencing. Yet it is our denial that keeps us a prisoner to addiction. So long as this defence mechanism has us in its grip, we are slaves to drugs.
The list of the types of defense mechanisms we use to stay in denial is long. Here are some of the defenses we use to allow us to continue our drug abuse:
- Justification: Justifying to others or ourselves why we abuse drugs. “If you had a life like mine, you would use drugs too”.
- Rationalization: Giving illogical reasons for why we abuse drugs. “I need drugs to have fun and feel confident”.
- Blaming/Playing the Victim: transferring responsibility for our drug abuse and behavior to other people as an excuse to use drugs. “My husband treats me badly; I need to use drugs to put up with him”.
- Minimization: Refusing to admit how much and how often we are doing drugs. “I only use drugs occasionally; I can manage it”.
- Intellectualization: Using faulty logic to convince ourselves and others that there isn’t a problem. “I need to take drugs to feel creative and do a better job”.
- Dishonesty: the truth about our drug abuse is a reality too hard for us to face, so we lie, distort the truth or leave out important details. “I don’t take drugs for pleasure; I need them for medical purposes”. “I don’t do drugs everyday — only on weekends”.
- Manipulation: We argue, tease, mock, con, etc. when confronted with our drug abuse. “I don’t use that much, and I can stop anytime I want”. “I don’t have a problem; you are the one with the problem”.
- Isolation: Keeping ourselves isolated from others so we can continue drugging.
2) Self-centeredness / Selfishness
Another mental feature of the disease of addiction is what it does to us as people. Those around us may call us selfish, because it seems our only priority is ourselves, and all we seem to do is chase after drugs. They think we have a choice or are just doing it for pleasure. But when suffering from this disease, we have no choice but to be “selfish”, for we need drugs to survive and will put them before everyone and everything.
The great two-edged sword with us addicts is our grandiosity, our exaggerated sense of self-importance. When we first use drugs, we experience a sense of power and control. We believe in the illusion the drug creates and think ourselves better, smarter, special, and more important than others. We are not content, nor take pleasure, in normal life, but want more and more. We believe we can succeed where so many others have failed; we strive for more money, more power, more and more prestige. We buy into the fantasy the drug creates of ourselves. Ironically it is this grandiosity that can prevent us from seeking help to recover. We may believe we are different from others, too far gone down the ladder, or that a 12 Step program may help others but not us because we are different — or special! This feeling about ourselves is referred to as “terminal uniqueness” in 12 Step programs. It is also said in 12 Step programs that low self-esteem and grandiosity are two sides of the same coin.
4) Radical change in personality when intoxicated
Another feature of how the disease of addiction distorts our way of thinking is how our personality radically changes when we abuse drugs. We may be the kindest people on earth, but when we put drugs into our system we suddenly become monsters. We lose our sense of morality and act in undignified ways. We resort to crime or unbecoming activities because the need to use drugs directs our actions. We never know how we are going to react, what character we are going to become once we use drugs. The tragedy is that the disease of addiction has distorted our thinking. We believe the lies we tell others to protect our drug abuse. Dishonesty becomes second nature, making it difficult for us to face the reality of our disease. Many of us must hit rock bottom before we can finally accept our disease. It is then that the pain caused by our addiction becomes so great that it breaks through our defense mechanisms. Sadly, many die before reaching this point, because the truth was too hard to face.
Drugs damage our mind, so relying on our thinking is of no use if we want to stop. As chronic addicts, we don’t have the mental ability to help ourselves. Abuse of drugs has taken that power away. We need the help of a Power greater than ourselves if we want to recover. It is the belief and reliance on this Power that can bring forth a solution for our disease of addiction.
Impact of dishonesty on the family
The impact of the addict’s dishonesty on family members is damaging in a number of ways. Family members will very often:
- Lose trust and respect for the addict, and begin to resent him
- Find it hard to connect with the addict – and with each other — and then lose hope of an honest and mutual relationship with him
- Feel insulted, frustrated and exhausted as their requests for the truth are met with justification, defensiveness, anger, or claims of unfair treatment
- Question their sense of reality, thinking that what they are seeing, hearing and feeling is a fabric of their anxious imagination. They begin to feel they are going mad!
- Fall victim to the addict’s manipulative ways and to believe the addict’s version of things. Slowly it becomes easier for family members to live in a lie as well, rather than confront the addict. Along with the addict, they fall into the habit of denial.
- Lie and manipulate to cover up for the addict in an effort to preserve the good name of the family
How to cope with dishonesty
What can be done when the addict’s lies have been effective? What should you do when the addiction has gained ground with your self-doubts, and you find yourself acting dishonestly to protect the addict and the family name? Basically, the question is how do the family members stop themselves from falling victim to this disease? How can they cope with addict’s dishonest behavior?
1) First, do not take the lying personally. The addict is not trying to hurt you. They are suffering from a disease that has taken over their life. They lie in order to deny their addiction and protect their drug use.
2) Remember too that the addict lies indiscriminately. It is not only you they are lying to. To continue their drug use, they need to hide it, to pretend that all is well. They make up stories and pretend to the world that the problem does not exist.
3) Do not waste your time arguing or pleading with the addict to get them to see the truth of their predicament. This is a pointless exercise that will only frustrate you. An addict actually believes the lies they tell – it is their version of the truth and you can’t convince them otherwise. So there is no point in confronting them.
4) It is very important to remember that you do not have the power to control or stop their disease of addiction! This truth cannot be over-emphasized.
5) Keep the focus on yourself. Stop listening to the addict’s lies or trying to convince him of the truth – or to get that addict to see reality. It’s more important that you see reality.
6) Tragically, many family members living with addiction waste their lives in a futile attempt at fixing the addict. Meanwhile, they are condemning themselves to year after year of fear, anger, and frustration. The only power we have as family members is the power to control how we behave and react towards the addict’s dishonesty.
7) Though it may at first be hard to believe, it is our CHOICE to become angry and frustrated at the addict’s refusal to see the truth. It has been proven, though, that we can choose to accept the addict is suffering from a disease that we have no power to control or cure.
8) Family members should consider joining a 12 Step fellowship in order to recover from the impact of living with addiction. Decades ago it was established that those living with addiction suffered ill effects right along with the drug abuser. It was discovered that just as the addict needs to recover, so too do the family members. Out of this realization came 12 Step fellowships devoted to family members. The first Step in these 12 Step programs is an admission by the family member that they are powerlessness over the disease of addiction.
9) Remember that addiction is a disease marked by dishonesty. The addict’s goal in life is to protect his access to drugs. Nothing else matters more. Remember also that neither you as a family member nor anybody else can make the addict stop until he is ready to stop. Once you accept these two truths, you can get on with your life, which has been crushed under the burden of accommodating yourself to the addict and the insanity that addiction produces.