Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Beth Tumarkin
Dr. Beth Tumarkin is a board certified psychiatrist who approaches each client as an individual and who listens to understand their experiences. She spends a lot of time with each client in order to develop the best treatment recommendations and has regular follow up appointments during the time they are at Tranquil Shores. She focuses on educating about the ins and outs of various treatment options, which helps with motivation and treatment adherence.
Dishonesty is unfortunately a part of addiction. The fact is that addiction can’t continue without the addict lying to themselves. Once you are comfortable lying to yourself, then lying to others can become routine. Your drug of choice is making decisions on your behalf and it is your greatest priority. Whatever it takes to get and use more. Addicts lie to protect themselves from the painful truth — that their drinking or drug abuse is no longer under their control. No one likes to admit they’ve lost their willpower or that their willpower isn’t enough to end their addiction, but that’s exactly what happens with addiction.
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Today, there are an estimated 24.6 million people age 12 and over living with addiction. That’s about 9.4 percent of the population. The fact that you’re here means you probably aren’t surprised by those numbers. There’s a good chance that someone you know and love is addicted and in need of treatment. If so, keep reading. We promise you will find some insights and answers here.
Talking to them about their problem, however, can seem like an exercise in futility. Denial, stonewalling and outright lies are part of an addict’s way of refusing to acknowledge the truth: That they can’t stop taking the addictive substance.
An addict’s entire existence revolves around their next hit. They will do anything to avoid the feeling of withdrawal. To protect themselves from realizing the harm their actions are causing to themselves and to others, and to provide rationalization for their next hit, they convince themselves of the lies they repeat.
The lies addicts tell themselves are many. Reading the following list of falsehoods addicts tell themselves will help you better understand just how cunning and deceptive alcohol or drugs are to an addict. These substances twist what’s wrong into what’s right and what’s right into what’s wrong. With treatment, addicts can recover, but until they do, the lies addicts tell can be summed up as follows.
The 20 Lies Addicts Tell Themselves
- “I don’t have an addiction.”
- “I can’t live without substance XYZ.”
- “I can stop anytime I want to.”
- “It’s not that much.”
- “I only use it occasionally.”
- “I’m not as bad as [insert name].”
- “I just like the feeling.”
- “It hasn’t changed me at all.”
- “I’m not hurting anyone.”
- “I can still do what I’ve always done.”
- “That DUI wasn’t my fault.”
- “I don’t drink in the morning, so I’m not an alcoholic.”
- “I only drink [wine/beer/whatever], so I can’t be an alcoholic.”
- “I’m still employed, so my drug use isn’t so bad.”
- “The kids don’t know what’s going on, so it’s okay.”
- “These are prescription medications, so it’s okay to take more of them.”
- “I only drink or use on the weekends, so I can’t be an addict.”
- “I’m under a lot of stress — it’s okay to kick back with this stuff and relax.”
- “Hey, my drinking or substance abuse doesn’t affect anyone else but me.”
- “I don’t care about the long-term consequences of this stuff. I just need to get through the day.”
20 Lies People Living With Addiction Tell
Lies can be things you say to others, as well as things you tell yourself. Lies you tell yourself are ‘rationalizations,’ and are a psychological defense mechanism.
When you tell lies to yourself, you protect yourself from seeing the truth and from acting to correct something painful or unacceptable in your life. That’s the most likely answer to the question, “Why do drug addicts lie?” It’s to protect themselves from seeing the unpleasant truth.
Lies that substance abusers tell themselves include:
1. “I don’t have an addiction.”
Addicts excuse their behavior with the phrase, “I don’t have an addiction.” They may say, “Well, I just like drinking” or, “I only take things occasionally.” These phrases are rationalizations for the fact that they can’t stop when they want to and that they feel compelled to continue abusing substances despite the negative consequences to their health, well-being, and relationships.
Acknowledging you have an addiction is the first step on the road to recovery. It may also be the most difficult. It opens the door to the possibility that your behavior is irrational, destructive, and dangerous. Many people take a long time to reach the conclusion that they have an addiction. They may deny it until they’re in the hospital with liver failure or in jail from a DUI. It can be the hardest thing to say, but it’s also the best thing to voice since it is the first step to get help.
2. “I can’t live without it.”
Some people do know they have a substance abuse problem, but they can’t accept their life without the substance. Drugs and alcohol change the chemistry of the brain itself, so addicts experience strong cravings for the substance they’re addicted to. These cravings fool addicts into believing they cannot live without the substance. The physical sensation of craving is hardwired into the brain, which affects an addict’s emotions and thinking abilities.
Withdrawal symptoms can also make it feel as if you’ll never be able to live without a substance. It’s no fun to feel sick, shaky, and otherwise lousy as your body’s chemistry sends signals that it “needs” more of the substance. It’s important to know that if you feel like you can’t live without your substance of choice, it’s just your addiction’s way of keeping you enslaved to substance abuse. Many people before you have successfully quit alcohol or drugs, and you can, too. No one is beyond hope!
3. “I can stop whenever I want.”
You may wish this were true, or you may still feel this to be true. However, unless you have proven that you can successfully quit using drugs or alcohol without cravings or withdrawal symptoms, you can’t truly stop anytime you want to.
A major sign of addiction is that substance abusers can’t stop using despite their best intentions. It has nothing to with willpower or strength of character. The body itself changes as it adapts to alcohol and drugs, setting up a cascade of chemicals that causes physical cravings and withdrawal.
Psychologically, your mind also craves drugs and alcohol for various reasons. These reasons don’t go away on their own, and they remain even if you try to quit. Without addressing these reasons in recovery, you’re still vulnerable to restarting your habit.
Stopping anytime you want to stop is a myth that many addicts continue to believe and a lie they tell themselves to justify their drinking and drug habits. If they feel they can stop at will, then it’s okay to continue, they tell themselves. Unfortunately, by then it is often too late to stop voluntarily.
4. “It’s not that much.”
A better question is, “How much is too much?” For an alcoholic, one drink is too many — and not enough. For a drug addict, one snort or hit is enough to set the whole addiction cycle spinning into gear again.
“How much” is a relative term when it comes to addiction. What’s too much for one person may not be enough for another. Tolerance develops over time in the addiction process. This means the body adapts to ever-increasing amounts of alcohol or drugs, requiring more to achieve the original high.
One person may be an addict who drinks half a bottle of wine every night. Another may drink a quart of Scotch each day, or take increasing amounts of Oxy. It doesn’t matter how much you take. It’s the fact that your mind, body, and spirit crave the substance and can’t live without it. Physical dependence, psychological dependence, and an inability to stop on your own are all signs of addictions.
“It’s not that much” is just an excuse addicts repeat to justify continuing their substance abuse. A little bit can be too much for an addict.
5. “I only use occasionally.”
Sometimes addiction isn’t a daily occurrence. Binge drinkers may remain sober throughout the week, handling responsible jobs, parenting, and school with sobriety. But come the weekend, they can’t stop themselves. They are addicted to both alcohol or drugs and heavily use on the weekends.
As with quantity, timing and frequency aren’t hallmarks of addiction, either. Addicts who use infrequently may still find themselves spiraling out of control as their tolerance and the need for greater amounts rises. Using only occasionally does not necessarily mean you aren’t addicted.
6. “I’m not as bad as [insert name].”
Justifying your own drug and alcohol use by pointing to someone else’s habits is also a means of deflecting criticism away from yourself. You cannot compare your own illness with someone else’s.
Two people may have diabetes, but just because your blood sugar reading is 120 and someone else’s is 130 doesn’t mean you’re healthier than they are. You both must act to control your blood sugar levels before your organs are damaged by the excess glucose.
Likewise, comparing your own substance abuse to someone else’s isn’t proving how healthy you’re compared to them. You may both be very sick and in need of treatment.
7. “I just like the feeling.”
Everyone likes to be relaxed, happy, energetic, or whatever the feeling is that substances give you. But those substances give you more than pleasant feelings. They also change how your body works.
Your brain responds to the changes in neurotransmitters by shutting down some and releasing others to maintain homeostasis so that the body stays alive. Over time, your quest to re-create those pleasant feelings can change your body, so cravings for more of your chosen substance arise. At that point, your body is physically dependent on the substance. It’s more than liking the feelings — now you must have the substance to avoid negative feelings that come in the substance’s absence.
8. “It hasn’t changed me at all.”
Addicts often use this as an excuse to offset comments that their personality has changed since substance abuse has taken over their lives. Unfortunately, few of us have the self-knowledge to see how we’ve changed over time, for good or for bad. Drugs and alcohol change moods and perceptions. This in turn alters personality, which does indeed change how you act and behave.
9. “I’m not hurting anyone.”
Another lie that addicts tell themselves is that their behavior isn’t hurting anyone. They don’t want to believe their need to get drunk or high has hurt their children when they aren’t there for them after school, at sports, or for other events. They don’t see that their inability to be present with family and friends is hurting others.
No one exists in complete isolation. An individual’s behavior impacts people around them, whether they like it or not. Drug and alcohol abuse hurt family, friends, coworkers, and the community.
10. “I can still do what I’ve always done.”
Like the lie about stopping anytime, addicts tell themselves they can still do the same activities they’ve always done even when their substance abuse has hurt their health. They may not realize the toll that drinking and substance abuse have taken on their mental and physical health.
Substance abuse takes over a person’s life to the point where they no longer exercise, get enough sleep or eat a healthy diet. All of this takes a toll on a person’s ability to think clearly and participate in many activities they once loved.
11. “That DUI wasn’t my fault.”
Addicts will often blame others for their own problems. Nothing is ever their fault. This lie is prevalent whether they’ve tripped on the stairs during a drunken binge or been pulled over for a DUI after a night of partying. A DUI isn’t their fault — the cops had it in for them. They didn’t trip because they were drunk — the carpet on the stairs is loose. It’s always someone else’s fault. Blaming others for the consequences of their substance abuse is easier on the conscience than realizing your life is spiraling out of control.
12. “I don’t drink in the morning, so I’m not an alcoholic.”
Because one of the known symptoms of alcoholism is needing a wake-up drink, there’s a myth that you aren’t an alcoholic unless you find yourself drinking in the morning. It doesn’t matter what time you drink. An alcoholic can’t stop drinking once they start, and they continue to drink even when drinking negatively affects their health, wellness, or well-being.
Drinking at night can be equally as destructive as drinking in the morning. Hiding alcohol, lying about how much you drink, and finding ways to drink when you know you shouldn’t are all indications your alcohol consumption has spiraled into addiction. Time of day does not matter. Among the many lies alcoholics tell themselves, this one can keep them from seeking help if they continue to believe morning drinking is what distinguishes them from being a full-blown alcoholic.
13. “I only drink [wine/beer/whatever], so I can’t be an alcoholic.”
Alcohol is alcohol, whether it’s found in beer, wine, hard liquor, fermented cider, or cough medicine. Any type of alcohol can set off cravings in an alcoholic, and any type of alcohol can be addictive. The type of substance abused doesn’t matter as much as other factors, especially the ability to control your drinking.
In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many stories of people switching from hard liquor to beer and convincing themselves this will cure their alcoholism. It doesn’t, because the basic problem remains. Among lies alcoholics tell, this one is very common but equally false. You can be an alcoholic addicted to beer, wine, vodka, or anything in between.
14. “I’m still employed, so my drug use isn’t so bad.”
Some substance abusers feel that just because they can still get up when the alarm clock goes off and make it to work on time, their drug use isn’t a problem. Although getting fired from work and being unable to hold down a job is one sign of a chronic substance abuser, the opposite isn’t true.
Just because you can hold down a job and stay sober at work doesn’t mean you don’t have a substance abuse problem. There are many substance abusers who abuse drugs or alcohol once they’re outside of work, but they can remain completely sober while on duty.
15. “The kids don’t know what’s going on, so it’s okay.”
Kids not only know, but they care deeply when their parents take drugs or drink. Even at a very young age, children are aware of the shifting moods and unreliability that goes along with living with a substance abuser. Drugs and alcohol change your behavior at home, which in turn changes your relationship with your kids.
An addict puts their substance abuse before everything else in life: family, work, community, even health. Therefore, even if you’re careful to keep your substances out of the house, your children will still sense the change in you. Kids are both smart and perceptive, and they can tell when their parents are putting something else first.
Parent’s substance abuse always impacts their children. It may not be noticeable right away, but your substance abuse does affect your children.
16. “These are prescription medications, so it’s okay to take more of them.”
Prescription medications are one of the most commonly abused medicines in the world. An estimated 2.4 million people use them recreationally or abuse them daily. You can become addicted to prescription medicine just as you can to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Just because a doctor has written a prescription for you does not mean what you’re taking is safe.
You should always use prescription medicines exactly as directed. Signs of addiction include taking more than the prescribed dose or taking the prescription more frequently than recommended.
Some people think that because such medication comes from a doctor and a pharmacy, it is completely safe. All prescription medicines carry risk. Doctors and pharmacists are trained to prescribe and dispense them at the correct dose to avoid harm. Taking more exceeds the recommended amount and can cause complications, including addiction.
17. “I only drink or use on the weekends, so I can’t be an addict.”
Weekend benders can be just as bad, if not more so, than constant, steady use. You can be an alcoholic or a substance addict even if you only get high on the weekends. Time and day don’t matter. If you crave substances, use them to escape life, and find you can’t quit on your own, those weekend indulgences have become an addiction.
18. “I’m under a lot of stress — it’s okay to kick back with this stuff and relax.”
There are many ways you can relax and let go of stress without drugs or alcohol. Lies alcoholics tell, along with lies drug addicts tell, include excusing their behavior with stress, a single event, a memorial or anniversary, or anything to give themselves a reason for taking their substance.
If you find you can’t relax and unwind except with drugs and alcohol, you have more problems than simple stress. Although substances such as alcohol can initially make you feel relaxed and sleepy, over time, the bounce-back effect from your neurotransmitters can make you feel even more uptight and wound up than before. Most drugs have a boomerang effect, causing even more stress as they wear off and the cravings for more begin.
Using drugs or alcohol as an excuse to unwind is a common lie addicts tell themselves. Learning new and healthier ways to relax is critical for recovery.
19. “Hey, my drinking or substance abuse doesn’t affect anyone else but me.”
Think about all the people you interact with daily. From the moment you awake to the moment you fall asleep, you probably interact with dozens or more coworkers, colleagues, friends, and family. Waiters, cashiers, cab drivers, strangers waiting at the bus stop — there are dozens of people you don’t even realize you interact with.
If you’re cranky, angry, or acting strange, you’re affecting them. Substance abuse changes your personality and can make your behavior unpredictable. Snapping at the waitress over a cup of cold coffee because you feel hungover hurts her. Yelling at your kids for being noisy because your head hurts after a night of partying affects them, too.
We each influence many people. Your drinking and substance abuse affect everyone around you, whether you recognize it or not. It’s a lie to think your behavior is only your business and that what you do in private doesn’t change your relationship with others. It’s all related.
20. “I don’t care about the long-term consequences of this stuff. I just need to get through the day.”
This last lie that addicts tell themselves is another form of denial. If you can tell yourself you don’t care about long-term consequences and that only today matters, then it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking another drink, pill, or hit of your favorite substance is okay.
There are always long-term consequences to your behavior. It’s hard sometimes to realize what they are because the daily action of drinking or drugging doesn’t immediately make you feel bad. If you overeat just 100 calories a day, within a year, you could gain considerable weight. There are consequences to your actions, even if you don’t feel them immediately.
The same may be said for substance abuse. Today, you may not feel too bad. But what damage have you done to your brain, your liver, your heart, or your lungs? What changes have happened in your family, and what bad feelings have you generated with your children or your spouse?
Addiction has long-term consequences. Just getting through today isn’t living. Your life is worth so much more than that. Recovery can help you get it back.
Tranquil Shores Can Help End the Cycle of Addiction. Call Today.
Although these 20 lies addicts tell themselves and others may defer the inevitable, the truth is waiting for everyone. Someday, the addict who tells these lies realizes they can’t hide from the truth anymore. There’s always a moment at which the truth becomes clear. When that happens, it’s time to seek recovery.
Tranquil Shores offers a caring place to begin your recovery. We provide an integrated approach to addiction treatment that has helped many recover from drug and alcohol addiction. We also offer dual-diagnosis treatment for people diagnosed with both addiction issues and mental health problems.