As a friend or family member of someone in active addiction, the most heartbreaking challenge is often the propensity of an addict to engage in dishonest behavior in order to continue using. It’s difficult to have someone you love lie to you, especially if it’s generally uncharacteristic of them.
Being a great liar depends on the degree to which you believe the lies you tell others. Convincing yourself of the truth of something makes it much easier to communicate that truth to others. The best liars believe the lies they tell. This is why addicts lie; because they first lie to themselves. Self-delusion is the true condition of the addict who claims he or she isn’t actually addicted. Self-control is the lie that the addict tells himself. And, because they believe they are in control of their habit, they believe they can just as easily choose not to engage in it as easily as they choose to do so.
Addiction, however, is not the result of lying to oneself. Lying to oneself is the result of addiction. We lie to ourselves whenever we need to justify doing something that we know is not good for us. The lying becomes a habit just like the addiction. This is why we lie to others; because we are simply expressing the justification of which we have already convinced ourselves. Everyone has experienced this at some level and in some area of life. Drug addicts are not the only ones who experience the controlling power of a bad habit. This can be experienced through a variety of different things. Although, substance abuse can be one of the most deadly habits around.
Addiction in the Brain
The phenomenon of addiction originates deeper within our brains than simply doing something out of reflex. It originates deep within our subconscious in an area of the brain called the limbic system. This area of the brain is associated with reward and serves to reinforce and prioritize activities which are essential to survival. For this reason, when we perform an action that makes us feel good, or triggers a pleasure response in the brain, the limbic system registers that action as an action to be repeated. While this happens in our subconscious, our conscious mind interprets the feeling as true and consistent with what we know to be good.
Consider that we only know drug abuse is unhealthy and dangerous because someone else told us so or because we observed someone else suffer from it. If we never learn about the dangers of substance abuse and our own direct experience of it is pleasurable and good, it seems safe to assume there’s no harm. It is not until we experience something painful or uncomfortable while using drugs that our brain associates the drug with harm. If it does, our behavior is likely to change as our brain seeks to repeat other activities which offer the proper rewards. If not, we continue in the previous action because our brain is still associating that action with reward. The difference between the addict and the person who curbs their behavior is that the addict does not make the same associations in their brain between action and consequence in relation to their drug use.
Pursuing the Need at All Costs
The addict lies because over time the brain has been re-wired to incorrectly believe the substance abuse to be not only pleasurable, but an active need. That is one of the effects that drugs have on the brain; they overload the brain’s reward center and cause it to make incomplete or inaccurate associations between actions and their consequences. When the brain doesn’t see things clearly, it can drive a person to engage in harmful and dishonest behavior without realizing the consequences.
A major part of addiction recovery is learning to see the addiction for what it is and gradually retraining the brain to accommodate healthy, sustainable behavior instead. While it’s never a good idea to allow someone you love to harm or abuse you, we also advocate compassion for the addict in your life. Don’t hate the addict, hate the addiction.
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