Someone struggling with an alcohol use disorder may have a strong, physical urge to drink which may inform the way certain decisions are made.1 All the things that make a person who she is may take a back seat to the need to satisfy the alcohol craving, and that includes honesty. Spouses, family, friends, faith and career can be shadowed by the desire to drink often and heavily. Lying to get more alcohol is just one of the reasons why a person dealing with alcoholism no longer tells the truth. Knowing the motivation behind the dishonesty helps family members understand what is happening in the mind of their addicted loved one and respond appropriately.
Alcohol Abuse Disorder and Honesty
Lying can contribute to a double life someone who struggles with alcohol may live. The life presented to others – families, friends, community – requires an intricate set of lies to stay one step ahead of being discovered. But perhaps the biggest lie someone with an alcohol use disorder tells herself is that no one really knows the truth – that getting and using alcohol is such a strong pull. David Sack, MD, for PsychCentral suggests the following reasons behind the lies:
- Preserving the addiction – Since getting and using alcohol are the most important things in an addicted person’s life, she will do whatever it takes to maintain her addiction. Her logic, which is really the exact opposite, is that she needs the alcohol and lying keeps people from holding her accountable so she can continue to use. Lying becomes the only way to preserve her current way of life.
- Avoiding reality – Alcohol use disorder requires that the person create a reality where she is doing exactly what other people want and hope for her, when in fact, no significant change has taken place. She needs the lies to please those who care about her and want her to get sober because the truth is, she’s still drinking and is close to losing everything.
- Avoiding confrontation – It is unusual for the loved ones of a person struggling with addiction to sit by and do nothing. They ask questions and get angry when the answers aren’t what they want to hear. The stress of this conflict at each interaction keeps lies flowing to avoid confrontation. Those who are addicted to alcohol often lack the coping skills needed to deal with confrontation in healthy ways. Instead, she may lash out in anger, become defensive or try to draw the attention away from her by pointing out problems and inconsistencies in others. Lying about her alcohol use helps her avoid confrontations that almost always turn ugly.
- Denial – No matter how strong the evidence that she has a problem, the person struggling with an alcohol use disorder must deny the drinking and its consequences. Even when the evidence is overwhelming, she may choose denial because she can see no other way. Although denial can give someone needed time to process the information loved ones are sharing, it can become pervasive, causing many to believe that their family and friends are actually the enemies. The disease essentially uses denial to ensure its survival.
- She believes she’s different – When a person addicted to alcohol acknowledges it has become a problem, she must convince herself that she is different in order to continue using. “I’m not like those people. I can handle my alcohol use,” is often the response, allowing the person to continue in the lie that they are OK.
- Shame – When someone has a sober moment or hour, the shame, embarrassment and regret over her choices can become overwhelming. Unable to work through these feelings in appropriate ways, she turns to alcohol again and lies to loved ones by presenting a persona that is far from reality.
- Because she can – Sometimes friends and family members match their addicted loved one’s denial with their own unhealthy responses. Turning a blind eye and making excuses for their loved one’s behaviors sets the example that lying is acceptable because the truth is too painful to bear.2
Coping With the Dishonesty of Alcoholism
Coping with the ongoing dishonesty associated with alcoholism can be challenging. You want desperately to believe your loved one recognizes her need for help, but you know in your heart she’s only saying the words you want to hear. Trying to tell the difference between her lies and reality can leave you emotionally exhausted and feeling hopeless.
That’s why taking care of yourself during this time is important. Reaching out for help from others can provide needed support as you learn to help without enabling.
Support groups, family therapy and counseling offer hope for those coping with the effects of loving someone with an addiction.3
Part of dealing with an addicted loved one is having a plan in place when the person lies to you. When you understand that the only behavior you can change is your own you can approach your loved one’s lies in a different way. When you can recognize and stop your own enabling behaviors, you can move your loved one closer to asking for help. In addition to that understanding and recognition, there are several ways to plan ahead and respond appropriately to dishonesty:
Don’t take the blame. Your loved one may turn the responsibility for her choices on you. Don’t buy into it. You are not to blame for her choices. She is the only one who can choose to stop using alcohol.
Don’t take it personally. It’s easy to think that if your addicted family member loved you, she would stop lying about drinking. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and it’s not about you. Because addiction changes the brain, your loved one may no longer be in control of her behaviors. Lying has become a compulsive part of her disease.
Don’t try to control the situation. Family members naturally try to do everything in their power to stop their loved one from drinking. Rescuing every time there is a crisis makes it easier for your loved one to return to alcohol instead of getting the help she needs.
Don’t accept unacceptable behavior. Making excuses for your loved one’s behavior while she is intoxicated only perpetuates the dishonesty you’re trying to stop. Physical and emotional abuse and hurtful or negative comments can damage emotional health for a lifetime. You have choices and can choose not to tolerate this kind of behavior from your loved one.
Don’t put off getting help. Sweeping an alcohol use disorder under the rug for years will not make your loved one well. The only way to move forward is to face the truth and make choices that will motivate your addicted loved one to do the same. You can’t change her behavior, but changing your responses to her behavior can make a huge difference in both of your lives.4
Finding Help for Alcohol Use Disorder
Recognizing that your loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder and that her dishonesty is contributing to the problem is an important step toward recovery. At Michael’s House, we can help you take that step and change your enabling behaviors. Our admissions coordinators are available to answer your questions and help you find treatment for your family and your addicted loved one.
By Patti Richards
1“Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.
2Sack, David. “7 Honest Reasons Why Addicts Lie.” Psych Central.com, 9 June 2015.
3“Family Involvement Is Important in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Psych Central, 17 July 2016.
4Fogoros, Richard N. “10 Things to Stop Doing If You Love an Alcoholic.” Verywell Mind, 29 Nov. 2018.