People can be addicted to all sorts of things, and it is arguably so common that all of us have been addicted to one thing or another at some point in our lives. Despite this addiction is usually regarded as dangerous and harmful and is as such socially unacceptable. Addiction, even to something that seems essentially harmless, means that you have no control yourself over what you do. It means that you feel compelled to engage in a certain behaviour, regardless of whether it seems advisable or appropriate. Often this addiction is chemical – meaning that we are physically addicted. Here you might find that you get a chemical high (or low) from a certain activity or indulgence. Of course drugs will give you that chemical high by changing the chemistry of your brain and this can eventually lead our brains to produce fewer chemical on their own, and thus for us to become ‘dependent’ on those drugs to achieve the normal base level that we are used to. Alternatively though we can become addicted to something psychologically, in that it becomes a strong habit, or a form of comfort, or simply something that we begin to need on an emotional level. Again this can lead us to be unable to control our urges and our behaviour.
The fact that addiction is often unhealthy, and that it is frowned on by society, means that we regularly try to hide the fact that we are in fact addicted. From others, but also from ourselves. At the same time we do this because we see it as a sign of weakness to be addicted, and do not like feeling as though we are not in control. Meanwhile we often just do not want whatever the stimulus is that we are addicted to to be taken away from us. This leads us to conduct all sorts of ‘lies’ to tell others in order to protect our reputation and to prevent our addiction being recognized, but also as an ‘ego defense mechanism’ to ensure that we at least feel in control.
We have all heard the words ‘I can stop any time I want to’ from someone we know, or on the television. This is a classic lie that an addict will make to create the illusion that they are choosing their behaviour rather than having no control. Bearing in mind what’s already been discussed, it is important to recognize that sometimes the addicted individual believes this about themselves. At the same time it may also be true. For example someone who is addicted to the Xbox might be capable of stopping, but not actually want to. Similarly someone who seems to obsessively work out might not want to stop. However if the addiction is harmful, then this in itself is a problem. If someone enjoys getting drunk enough that they are willing to sacrifice their health and their reputation then this needs to be addressed. For example, what is it in their life that they want to forget? Are they not happy? Or how else can they get some of the effects of being drunk without actually drinking? Challenge them to demonstrate their ability to stop and challenge them by asking why they are not stopping if they can. List all of the bad effects of their behaviour and see what argument they can concoct to counter that.
‘I have to quit on my own’ or ‘I’ll quit when I’m ready’. This is another common lie, which is a clever way to get people to leave the alone. Here they create the impression that they are capable of stopping (thus regaining the control) but also that those trying to help are actually doing more harm than good (thus preventing their addiction from being taken away from them). Many people then leave the addicted person alone out of guilt and conscientiousness, but they are likely to find that that person simply continues in their behaviour and that it actually worsens. If you throw away their alcohol or their cigarettes, or take their debit card away from then then this is tough love that will work because they physically can not engage in the behaviour – even if they hate you for it at the time. Refuse to accept excuses and take the tough love approach.
‘I’m cutting down’. This might not be a lie, but a genuine attempt on that person’s behalf to lessen their bad behaviour. An alcoholic for example might cut down on their alcohol intake in order to gradually reach ‘normal levels’ in baby steps. However there is also a good chance that they are merely saying they are cutting down, or having one less unit just to demonstrate their control and to get the nagging off of their back as a compromise. Whether they are lying or telling the truth though, this form of quitting rarely works. For an alcoholic it is not enough to simply cut down – someone who has been an alcoholic needs to become T-total. Similarly you can not merely cut down on cigarettes, or every time you feel stressed or upset you will find yourself leaning on the addiction again. At the same time when someone is just cutting down, even with the intention to stop completely, it is easy to allow yourself the odd ‘slip’ where you have an extra cigarette or bet an extra time and this can eventually completely stifle your progress whereas if you were to stop completely then any slips become a far more serious matter and can throw away weeks worth of progress.
‘I do not want to live forever’. Sometimes people will accuse their friends and society of being a ‘nanny state’ and see their smoking or drinking as an act of rebellion and of demonstrating their freedom. These people claim that too many things are banned and that they are not afraid of dying a little early as a result of their behaviour. However when you get down to it you will likely find that they are in fact scared; if not of dying young, then of ending up brain dead or on life support or of losing limbs. Meanwhile they might sympathize with you when you tell them you are afraid of losing them – particularly if people rely on them.
‘I have quit’/’I do not have an addiction’. Of course another lie is simply that the addiction does not exist at all. This is not a lie they can make to themselves, as they will know their own behaviour so it is purely an attempt to get you off of their back. There is not much you can do about this if you do not know, but if you suspect you can certainly make things difficult for them and expose them. If you do not manage to catch them red handed you can at least limit their behaviour by not presenting them with as many opportunities.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the lies that addicts tell themselves and those that care about them. At the same time they are likely not to appreciate your attempts to see through their smokescreens and you can damage your relationships as a result. Still, regardless of what they say, persevering is the best course of action and one day, hopefully, they will thank you.