It’s tough for family or friends of substance users to understand why their loved one lies to them about their drug or alcohol use (I’ll refer to drug use from this point on, to include alcohol). It’s also incredibly frustrating because when we know someone is lying to us, it’s always really hard to call someone out about their lies because it’s all a bit embarrassing. Either that, or when we do challenge someone about catching them out, they are likely to react with anger or denial which can provide a great excuse to go and have a drink.
Why do they lie?
We know that when people are addicted to a particular substance, they struggle to find interest in anything other than their alcohol or drug of choice. This means that they are likely to do anything to get their drug, which inevitably includes lying through their teeth!
Here’s the reasons why your loved one is lying to you:
- Avoiding help- even if someone is aware that their drug use is causing problems, it is a HUGE hurdle to admit it to themselves, let alone anyone else. This means that in order to stay comfortable, it is easier to lie. Admitting it, getting help, being challenged, is not a nice place to be.
- Denial- it’s so much easier to deny drugs are a problem. It feels much safer and denial means that a loved one can continue using their drug of choice, which is their priority. It’s easier to blame every man and his dog for the problems that go on than the drug. It is important that the drug is protected, as, for whatever reason, your loved one is benefiting from their substance. It is helping them to get away from something, or it is giving them something they need.
- Fear- It is far too scary to admit drugs are a problem or to think about making the changes your loved one needs to make for themselves. It is easier to lie to others and ourselves when we feel frightened about facing up to something.
- Loving the drug- Substance users cannot imagine their life without their drug so they truly believe it is a part of their life and that they need it and want to continue using it.
- Shame- Drug users go through periods of wanting to change. During these times, they will experience shame about using their drugs, how they have treated their own family and friends, their desperation. Then, it can becomes clear that burying their head in the sand and lying to themselves about the situation is much more manageable than face up to their lives and the hurt they have caused other people. They even start to believe their own lies!
How to handle lying
- Call them out- This is cringeworthy, but you’ll get used to it. Use positive communication such as I-messages to feed their lies back to them. This is done in a way that is non-confrontational and gentle which focuses on YOUR feelings, not their behaviour.
- Remember it’s not you it’s them- try not to take it personally as your loved one is avoiding reality and thinking they are making it easier for you if you don’t know the whole truth.
- Enabling- if you want to help your loved one do something that they are not capable themselves of doing as an adult, then feel free. Do not protect them from the negative consequences of their substance use. Don’t lie to friends and family, don’t cover for them and don’t clean up after they’ve puked all over themselves. This is hard, but, if they don’t see the damage their substance use is doing, and you start lying too, then this gives a message to your loved one that lying is acceptable.
- Create open communication- I have supported many people that use the strategies I suggest, but this does not mean ignoring your loved one! It is absolutely crucial that positive communication methods are used. What we are aiming for is to reduce the covering up and lying, and create a secure environment where your loved one feels they can come to you and speak to you without judgement.
- Acceptance- accepting your loved one’s substance use, instead of fighting against it will save your energy and allow you more time to use effective strategies to reduce or stop their substance use and to learn how to put your self first and lead a better life. This will tip the balance so that your loved one learn that being sober is better than being smashed.
I can help
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.
I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here
I have a closed Facebook Group called Vesta Confidential. If you are affected by a loved one’s substance use, come and join me.
Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.