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Have you ever lied to your parents to protect your addiction? What about your boss? Co-workers? Kids? Romantic partner? Guaranteed there have been people you have lied to. You may have even lied to every important person in your life. It wouldn’t be unusual.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” The compulsive part is important because it leads to lies, along with a partner: conflict. Both work together to make honesty an impossibility as long as you are abusing substances.
Drugs and alcohol affect your limbic system—made up of parts of the brain that are in charge of instinct, emotion, and memory. When you abuse a substance, the limbic system floods the brain’s receptors with feel-good chemicals, like serotonin.
When this happens, the limbic system also makes a memory of the positive experience and the situation that created it. This creates a reward cycle where the brain desires substances to make the brain feel euphoria. That’s what drives the compulsion to use despite the desire not to.
When the brain’s compulsion drives you to use, you can’t make clear decisions about it. This leads you to seek them out regardless of your relationships and responsibilities. In order to do this, you have to lie to avoid conflict.
When you have an addiction, you come into conflict. Family members will want to know where your money goes, where you go, why you can’t spend time with them, who you are spending time with, and a score of other things. Your boss and co-workers will wonder about absences and erratic job performance. People who know about your drug use will want to know if you stopped and if you haven’t when you will. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of questions and doubts you will have about each other.
The only way to pacify people and to keep using is to lie. Everyone likes to avoid conflict and many people lie to avoid it, but addiction increases that behavior in severity and frequency.
You may not even be aware of the ways in which you are lying to yourself and others. Have you:
In fact, you may not even be aware of the ways in which you have been dishonest.
- Said “yes” when you meant “no”?
- Failed to define and enforce a boundary?
- Chosen to continue in a negative relationship or a relationship with no chance of a healthy future?
- Stood idly by as cruelty was being perpetrated?
- Allowed a person to direct your behavior?
- Allowed resentments to fester in your heart rather than speaking up?
- Told people you are okay (to yourself and/or to others) when you are not?
These are all forms of dishonesty.
To the same degree that lying is a part of addiction, honesty is a part of rehabilitation and recovery.
Honesty is a part of all treatment, but nowhere is it driven home more than in a 12 step program. Even if you have never been to a meeting, popular culture has told everyone that the first step is admitting you cannot control the disease. That variety of honesty with yourself is the most basic foundation for recovery, but the other steps focus on honesty as well:
- Step 1: honest with oneself
- Steps 4 and 5: honesty with a higher power and others (family, health care providers, therapists, peers)
- Steps 8 and 9: active steps toward honesty
- Steps 10-12: daily honesty practice
You can’t begin to recover and be honest with others until you can be honest with yourself. That honesty will grant you an intimacy with yourself. You will be able to understand yourself, your drives, your weaknesses, and your strengths: all things that you need to be aware of in order to m maintain your sobriety.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports: “In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.” Are you one of them?