This is a common question among the families and friends of addicts. And even addicts themselves, as they get into recovery, may be surprised at the utter lack of honesty in their lives. They may have considered themselves ethical people over all, just problem drinkers. The rest of life was OK. Or so they thought.
But in reality, alcoholism and/or other addictions are never isolated conditions. They seep into all areas of our lives, affecting the way we live and interact in the world. A large part of getting sober and beginning to recover involves getting honest. But why do addicts lie in the first place? Is it simply a given that addicts are liars—that lying people have a higher probability of becoming drunks? Or is there something else going on?
It is said that the deception of others is rooted in the deception of ourselves. For the non-addict, this kind of reasoning may be hard to understand. But imagine if you believed that the grass was blue and the sky was green. Perhaps something was flawed in your eyes or your perception, and to you this is genuinely how things looked. And you went around telling other people this. Would you be a liar?
The problem with addiction is that addicts become conditioned to a truth they have created—the one that reassures them they don’t really have a problem. In their haze, they believe it’s true. Their perception of the situation is fatally flawed so they cannot help but speak from a place of dishonesty.
The addiction goes to any lengths to perpetuate itself by making addicts highly attuned to anything or anyone that might get in the way of them obtaining the fix they need. Getting high becomes a matter of survival, and therefore worth lying about or hiding, especially if they believe they’ll meet with opposition. Again, the individual may not want to lie about it, but not getting drunk or high simply isn’t an option. Secrecy and covering up often doesn’t equate with lying in the mind of the addict. It’s what must be done.
Alcoholism is an unnatural condition, and thus it creates unnatural conditions in the addict’s life. It may mean she’s perpetually late, he frequently misses work or she can’t pay her rent on time. And the addict, wanting to evade conflict, will make up an excuse; traffic, illness, a bad month, whatever. The addict doesn’t recognize that these are lies to cover addiction—that the real problem and explanation is the drinking or drug use. But he or she will do anything to avoid getting in trouble or being found out. From small white lies to massive untruths, the addict will say what he or she needs to say to try to keep life in balance.
The addict, as long as he or she persists in active addiction, will continue to deny that there’s a problem. This is because admitting it will mean something has to be done about it. Thus the addict brain works overtime to justify and deny the situation in order to avoid the unbearable cognitive dissonance. As a result, the addict is unable to take honest stock of the condition of his or her life or to hear and understand the concerns of others.
If someone you love is an addict, it’s normal to feel injured by his or her dishonest behavior. It’s easy to become exasperated, as it seems alcoholics and drug addicts lie about everything. We can’t help but take it personally. But try to understand that lying is one symptom of a very serious illness, just like congestion is a symptom of a cold, and try not to take it personally. When the addict gets help, the honesty will return.