Mental defense mechanisms are a normal part of how the human mind operates. This is especially true when addicts are forced to acknowledge unpleasant facts, feelings or actions.
Why Do Addicts Lie?
Addicts are masters at concealing the truth about their actions. This is no fault of their own, but is merely one of many negative manifestations of their addiction. Lying and addiction go hand-in-hand.
Asking why addicts lie is akin to asking why sober people tell the truth. The disease of addiction does not support an honest and healthy lifestyle. It forces addicts to do things that they are not proud of, resulting in a chain-reaction of untruth and deception.
While the addict is not setting out to deliberately believe or convince us of things that are not true, it may seem otherwise. The addiction employs any number of defense mechanisms when the mind is confronted with uncomfortable truths. In many cases, the addict may not even be aware this is happening.
So why do addicts lie about everything? The reasons for the lies can be as obvious as they are upsetting:
- Addiction Preservation: Since an addict will do whatever it takes to preserve the addiction, lying is a way for them to ensure self-preservation within the addiction. Misguided logic causes a breakdown in reasoning. This results in a sense of addiction preservation that is mistaken for actual self-preservation.
- Reality Avoidance: The disease of addiction so disrupts and changes the world of the addict and those around them that soon they are unrecognizable. Facing the truth then becomes so painful that the addict constructs an alternate reality where they find their damaging behavior acceptable.
- Confrontation Avoidance: One thing addicts hate the most is being faced with confrontation over their addiction and the havoc it is wreaking on their lives. When denial is combined with defensiveness, it can be extremely difficult to get through to the struggling addict.
- Shame: During the low or sober moments, the sense of shame, embarrassment or regret can seem overwhelming. It can be so difficult to cope with these emotions that addicts will often revert back to the only thing they know to numb the pain: lying and drug use.
- Pride: The ego need can often be the largest driver of an active lie. An addict’s dignity and pride are often in direct conflict with their actions, leading them to spin a web of lies to keep what is essentially a false pride intact.
Lying is one of the main reasons addicts isolate. The more one lies, the harder it is to discern truth from reality. Often the best way for an addict to avoid this paradox is to wallow in anger and disillusionment. Only by breaking out of that cycle can lies and addiction be overcome.
Overcoming the Lies of Addiction
Only by making positive life changes and raising awareness does the addict remove themselves from the trap of backwards thinking and illogical behavior. Now the addict need only persevere in creating a new way of life with support and love of friends and family.
While no one can force an addict out of denial, there are methods that loved ones can employ to help shine the light of truth on a life of lies:
- Don’t take it personally. Lies and deception are part of the addiction. Allowing anger or resentment to build does not help the addict recover. Patience and understanding are keys to supporting recovery.
- Raise the bottom. Lies and deception keep loved ones trapped within the addiction. Sometimes it is necessary to bring about an addict’s rock bottom by staging an intervention, ceasing enabling behavior, or contacting a counselor or addiction treatment center.
- Don’t practice avoidance. When things seem at their worst, sometimes ignorance offers a false bliss. Looking the other way when an addict is caught in a lie does nothing to help them recover and discover a new way of living. The only way one can see the consequences of their actions is if those actions are calmly and truthfully illuminated with the light of truth.
- Don’t make excuses. One of the worst things we can do is cover up or make excuses for an addict. Shielding them from the undesirable consequences of their actions deprives them of the ability to learn from them.
- Create a supportive environment. One needn’t be an addict to acknowledge the reason most people lie. Since the truth hurts and bad information is usually met with rancor, a lie often seems like the easiest way to go. Providing a supportive environment that encourages truth-telling without anger will help the addict feel safe and able to honestly speak their mind.
Answering why drug addicts lie is not easy. Addicts lie for many reasons. Sober people lie. It is when the motives for the lie are brought into focus that the moral imperatives become clear.
Only by tearing down the wall of denial and providing a supportive environment for the addict to heal will a life of truth and sound reasoning finally be revealed.
Being able to break out of the cycle of lies brought on by addiction is crucial to a lasting and successful recovery. It’s never easy to turn a life of lies into a one of joy and truth. The spotlight of honesty can be harsh to eyes adjusted only to the darkness of deceit and manipulation.
It requires hard work on behalf of the addict, family and friends to get out of the trap of lying and addiction. Here are some suggestions to get the process started:
- A Guiding Hand: Having someone assist in helping addicts see the truth of their situation is crucial to a successful recovery. Avoiding confrontation and being empathic are hugely important in guiding the recovering addict through the stages of recovery.
- Journaling: Keeping a journal is a great way for an addict to foster honesty with self and others. It is often easier to write what is difficult to say. By keeping a journal of our thoughts, we help to keep ourselves honest and grounded in the present.
- Critical Thinking: This is the ability to objectively assess what is going on around us in a calm and logical way. We must always keep an open mind, accept new evidence and not let preconceived notions or contrived ideas get in the way of rational thought.
By engaging in sober behaviors and practicing sound methods to induce logical thought, addict odd behavior can be both explained and overcome. Addiction isn’t just a feeling. The brain is changed in ways that are only repaired through time and maintained sobriety.
It is possible to revert back to a normal and logical way of thinking. Harm and disruption don’t have to be permanent fixtures in the lives of addicts and their loved ones.
When sound reasoning and truth is replaced with denial and deceit, the addict’s mind begins to construct an existence that is based on lies and obfuscation. Unbeknownst to the addict, they are the first to fall victim to the false world they have created.
Fortunately, it is possible to break out of this dangerous paradigm. By breaking down exactly why drug addicts lie and behave the way they do, we can examine the complex relationship between the addict, their behavior and our response.
The Addict Brain
Understanding why addicts behave the way they do is so difficult because their actions defy sound logic and reason. The disease of addiction exists in the brain. As a result, the very fabric of an addict’s thinking can be so distorted by drugs that they fail to see reality. It’s as though addicts and lying go hand-in-hand.
Because addiction affects the chemicals that regulate our behavior, the changes that take place within the mind of the addict have a scientific basis. They are not acting destructively because they want to; they act this way because the chemical makeup of their brain is changing.
Every human action is regulated by the following three areas of the brain:
- Brain Stem: Controls basic bodily functions.
- Cerebral Cortex: Processes feeling, hearing, seeing and tasting.
- Limbic System: Contains the brain’s reward center.
The limbic system is the part of the brain most affected by drug addiction. The communication between neurons in the brain is interrupted or modified depending on the drug.
Here is how the human brain communicates:
- Neurons: Each neuron, or nerve cell, in the brain sends chemical and electrical signals.
- Neurotransmitters: These signals are then carried between neurons by neurotransmitters.
- Receptors: The neurotransmitter sends the signal to the receptor at one end of a neuron.
- Transporters: The transporter then recycles the neurotransmitter and ends communication.
This complex balance of electrical and chemical stimulation to produce thought and emotion exists in a delicate state. In some cases, such as when marijuana and heroin are used, the chemical in the drug mimics that of natural neurotransmitters, causing a false signal within the brain.
Most drugs act on dopamine, which regulates the brain’s movement, motivation, emotion and pleasure centers. When naturally stimulated, this system rewards normal behavior.
In some cases, when ingesting drugs, the addict will receive two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural activities like eating or sex provide. Since this happens immediately, the brain’s pleasure circuits are stimulated far more quickly and intensely.
The addict shouldn’t be blamed, however; as a wise man once said: “They know not what they do.” Addiction causes real chemical changes in the brain that directly affect an addict’s conscious and unconscious behavior. Modern science has shown us that there are both environmental and biological factors in addiction.
Deciphering how an addict thinks requires more than just a scientific analysis, however. There are deep emotional and behavioral reasons for an addict’s odd behavior that require a look from the psychological perspective.
How Does a Drug Addict Think?
An abnormal way of thinking develops within the addict brain that causes one to embark on and justify self-destructive behavior. Famous author and poet Edgar Allen Poe himself put it best when he said:
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
Often emotional tragedies, bad memories or a sense of loneliness or depression can catalyze an addict’s false thinking. Though many addicts think drugs can regulate these feelings, in reality they are only being intensified. An addict’s ability to rationally counteract negative feelings is stunted by drug use.
When these false pleasures are proven to be just that, the addict immediately begins justifying their addictive behavior with thoughts like:
- Life without drugs is dull and boring.
- The high will just keep getting better.
- Everyone is jealous of me.
- Drugs make me more creative.
- Normal people like to do drugs.
- I’m an exception to the rule.
- I’m not hurting anyone.
It’s easy to account for irrational behavior when the motivating factors are negative behavioral modifiers. To fully understand addictive behavior, we need to take a deeper look at each of these behavioral modifiers in greater detail.
What Represents Addict Behavior?
Addicts are excellent at creating a worldview that is compatible with their addiction. Unfortunately, these worldviews often fly in the face of reality.
When this happens, the addict is faced with cognitive dissonance, which is described in The Free Dictionary as a condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions.
Each of these behaviors serves to compliment an addict’s way of thinking. Without being able to detach from reality through Freudian defense mechanisms, the addict would not be able to continue their illogical way of life.
How interrelated these five key behavioral modifiers are in regulating an addict’s odd behavior becomes apparent once we take a look at each, one by one.
As the disease of addiction develops, denial is often the first behavior to manifest itself. This is a common defense mechanism that results in the addict refusing to acknowledge what is really going on in his or her life.
Denying any signs of a problem is the ego’s way of compensating for emotionally taxing self-realizations. This is a strategy that allows the addict to avoid facing the hard truths. As the denial deepens, the addict becomes more and more deluded in their thinking.
While denial may provide short-term relief, it also requires a substantial investment of time and energy. Keeping the truth at bay becomes harder the longer it continues.
Self-justification represents the act of justifying or providing excuses for bad behavior. Cognitive dissonance is the engine that powers self-justification. It requires that addicts actively change the way they perceive their own actions.
By distorting their own personal reality, self-justification allows the addict to displace personal responsibility for their actions. Addicts feel that they are able to diminish their responsibility for bad behavior simply through justification.
Though we will get into fallacies of logic later, it wouldn’t be going too far in saying that rationalization is an informal fallacy of reasoning. Through illogical means, rationalization allows the addict brain to make tolerable, in some cases even desirable, actions that are otherwise illogical and unhealthy.
Using rationalization to justify irrational behavior encourages addicts to avoid unacceptable motives or feelings. If addicts think they know themselves better than they actually do, they think: “I got this!” without evaluating the facts and acting logically. They are merely rationalizing for bad behavior.
Intellectualization may be the most difficult behavioral modifier for an addict to use to explain away odd behavior. This defense mechanism causes one to focus on facts and logic to support negative behavior. This proves difficult when the facts and logic no longer support the actions being taken.
It is when the addict becomes good at twisting the facts and logic to support their worldview, at the expense of their emotional state, that intellectualization becomes problematic. By repressing real emotions to support twisted facts, they fall prey to this fallacy of reasoning.
When the addict mind is projecting, it’s attributing its own unacceptable thoughts, feelings or actions onto others. It is easier for an addict to accept bad behavior when it is being caused by others.
As the addict experiences emotional pain, they can displace it by pointing the finger at someone else. Denial plays a big role in projection. As drug addicts become accustomed to denying that the problem lies with them and instead convinces themselves that it’s everyone else’s problem, they slip back into illogical reasoning.
While these are not the only behavioral modifiers that addicts exhibit, they are possibly the most frequent. Watch for others such as:
- Acting Out: By performing an extreme and confrontational behavior, the addict releases an emotional pressure valve.
- Assertiveness: Using assertive behavior to scare off confrontation when faced with pained loved ones is a common tactic addicts use to deflect responsibility.
- Compensation: By highlighting strengths in other, nonrelated areas, the addict compensates for perceived failures in their addiction.
- Compartmentalization: By disassociating parts of oneself from the other, the addict can then operate as if they have two different sets of values.
- Displacement: Through displacement, the addict merely substitutes one unhealthy impulse for another equally as unhealthy impulse.
- Reaction Formation: By converting unwanted or dangerous actions into the opposite, the addict justifies the behavior.
- Repression: This is an unconscious mechanism used by addicts to keep disturbing or painful thoughts from surfacing.
- Regression: Regression rears its ugly head through the ability to take the mindset back to another place in time.
- Sublimation: Through sublimation, the addict substitutes one negative impulse with another that might be considered more socially acceptable, but still damaging.
- Undoing: By attempting to take back the pain they have caused through apology or flattery, the addict feels they can undo pains of the past.
Addiction has been studied on a psychological level for a long time, but what does the addict brain’s behavior look like when viewed through the lens of philosophy?
Logical Fallacies in Addiction
Avoiding the hard truths and living a lie can be easily quantified through common philosophical methods. In many cases, an addict’s behavior represents one of many different logical fallacies.
Here are some of the fallacies the addict engages in and examples of how they are used:
- The Masked Man: When using this fallacy the addict is using truth to create falsities.
Example: “Since people relapse, that must mean true recovery isn’t possible.”
- Post Hoc Fallacy: This is the mistaken belief that because one condition follows the other they must be casually linked.
Example: “My friend recently became sober, but then died a few weeks later.”
- Fallacy of Composition: The fallacy of composition represents the belief that because a part of the argument is true, the entire argument must be true.
Example: “Because some treatment options don’t work, I don’t think any of them will.”
- Argument from Silence: This is the incorrect assumption that because no one is arguing with the addict, they must be right. While it is more probably the lack of communication is because the conversations don’t get anywhere, the fallacy persists.
Example: “Since no one is telling me I’m wrong, then I must be right.”
- Hysteron Proteron: In this situation the addict assumes something is true based on belief that isn’t grounded in fact.
Example: “Sober people are always bored, so there’s no point in getting sober.”
- Ignoratio Elenchi: This is where someone uses irrelevant information to support an incorrect conclusion.
Example: “Some sober people are depressed, so being sober isn’t a good idea.”
The fallacies of reasoning listed above can be dispelled with hard work in recovery. Here are the steps to take inorder to maintain consistency in thoughts, actions and feelings:
- Focus on beliefs that contradict, inform or outweigh the dissonant behavior.
- Find a way to reduce the impact or import of the conflicting behavior.
- Completely change the conflicting behavior so that it is consistent with the correct behavior.
The first person a drug addict begins lying to is him or herself. Convincing one’s self that the addiction is a normal manifestation of daily life is the first lie.
Being able to explain the behavior of an addict in a psychological and philosophical way is comforting to the mind, but what kind of explanation is comforting to the heart? It is easy for our intellectual selves to understand why we are being lied to, but emotionally it’s a different story.