Why Do Addicts Lie?

Lying and addiction go hand in hand. Nearly everyone with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) tells lies. Often they do so frequently. Loved ones often ask “why do addicts lie?” The fact is those that battle addiction are not fully in control of their actions. Therefore they lie in order to cover up their addiction. Their disease is also trying to protect itself. It does this by manipulating the brain of the addicted person. Here, we’ll explore the 7 primary reasons behind lying and addiction. These are:
• To Hide Their Addiction
• Denial
• Fear
• Shame
• Emptiness
• They are not in Control
• To Protect Their Loved Ones

Let’s look at each one in depth.

Lying and Addiction to Hide the Truth

The simplest reason for lying and addiction is to continue drug and alcohol use. Since they know they are using more than is normal or appropriate, they are dishonest about when, where and how much they are using. As with all lies, these quickly snowball. In order to explain where they have been or what they have been doing, they create stories. These stories require supporting details. This turns lying and addiction into a vicious cycle that can seem inescapable. If they were to be honest about one part, the rest would quickly unravel. It doesn’t take long before they’re in so deep they barely know what the truth is.

Denial as a Cause for Lying and Addiction

Many people with SUD aren’t fully aware of how unusual their life is. They are in denial about the seriousness of their problem. They literally can’t see how much of their time and energy is spent on lying and addiction. This means the first person they are lying to is themselves. When they don’t see the reality, they aren’t able to then tell others the truth, because they don’t actually know it. This means making excuses, altering timelines or inventing rationalizations for their actions.

Fear Fuels Lying and Addiction

With addiction comes anxiety. Those with SUD are afraid nearly all the time. A few common fears are:
• Their addiction will be discovered.
• They will lose their job.
• People will judge them.
• Family will be hurt and angry.
• No one will love them.
• They are worthless and always will be.
• Life will never get better.
• They will be institutionalized or incarcerated if they are honest.
• Everyone will abandon them.
These are merely a few common worries that plague addicts. Almost every part of their life is touched with fear. This puts them in a near constant state of fight-or-flight. Because they are frightened they tell lies in order to reduce these fears. They try to make themselves look better in order to get love or to avoid losing the people who already love them. They try to make their lives look fuller to prevent others from judging them. To gain a sense of worth, they get caught in a spiral of lying and addiction. Many times they are trying to save the people in their lives from the darkness the addiction creates.


People with SUD are ashamed and embarrassed by their own behavior. They suffer from a compulsion they can’t control. Lying and addiction only makes this worse and hurts self esteem. It makes them behave in ways they don’t fully understand. They often will steal to support their habit. It is difficult for them to hold a job to support themselves. They hate what they have become and say whatever they need to say so that other people don’t know how far they have fallen. They are dishonest just to feel like they fit in.
This shame is worse if the person thinks they are weak. If they believe that their SUD is a moral problem, rather than a disorder, they think less of themselves. Then they lie so others don’t also think less of them.


The lives of people with SUD are often very hollow. Much of their time is spent getting substances to use, using these substances and recovering from the effects. When life becomes a constant cycle of addiction, it’s hard to be truthful about what they do. So they lie. This helps keep up the appearance of normalcy. It also gives them a slight feeling of worth, when they often feel worthless. By creating a fictional better life, they feel that perhaps they can attain some measure of the esteem that their disorder has taken away.

They are not in Control

People without SUD feel good when they exercise, eat, sleep or spend time with loved ones. They get rewards from accomplishing goals, completing tasks or relaxing with a favorite hobby.
This isn’t true of those in the throes of SUD.
Those with SUD have literally had their mind stolen from them. Using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis alters the chemistry of a person’s brain. It does this by using the pleasure centers. The more a person uses, the more they need to use. Normally rewarding behaviors like those listed above no longer gives them a reward. Only more substance use can achieve the necessary effect.
When this happens, lying and addiction become a near necessity. Everything except using substances is miserable. They never feel good or happy. There is no joy or fulfillment. Eventually, they start lying and addiction to avoid feeling badly rather than trying to feel good. They merely want the suffering to stop.
Anyone trying to stop suffering when life has become endless suffering would do whatever it takes to end the pain. This means lying. Since their brain chemistry tells them normal life is painful, lying in order to protect themselves feels like a small price to pay.

To Protect Their Loved Ones

People with SUD typically don’t want to drag other people down. They know how grim and difficult lying and addiction is and don’t want to disappoint the people they love. They don’t want to burden their friends and family with their pain and problems. So they lie. While they often cause more problems this way, and create an atmosphere of distrust, they are trying to guard others from their discomfort.

“Why Do Addicts Lie?”: How to Help Them Stop

Understanding why lying and addiction go together is only the start. The true problem to be addressed is the illness. Here’s a few helpful questions to ask:

• Do you want to stop drinking/using?
• What do you need to get better?
• How can I help you be honest with me?
• Are you aware of how your behavior is affecting me and or your family/friends?
• Do you understand I love you and want you to get better?

If you are caught in a cycle of lying and addiction or have a loved one with an addiction and you want to help them stop the cycle , assistance is available. Reaching out is the best first step. Addiction survives in isolation. It is treated through the help of others. By talking to a trained professional you can discover new and better ways to stop the lies and end the addiction.