Honesty is often touted as one of the greatest moral characteristics. However, we cannot always pass such black and white judgment. When it comes to addiction, dishonesty can be a symptom of the addiction and a lack of moral character.
‘Many people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol will lie to protect themselves and others. When they finally decide to seek treatment from their addiction, it can be very difficult to break this habit,’ said Bryan Alzate from the United Recovery Project in California.
However, honesty is vital to recovery. Being genuine to yourself, no matter how difficult it is, can help you to avoid relapse and remain sober long-term. Find out why dishonesty is so common in addiction, how important it is for recovery, and what you can do to remain honest during recovery.
Dishonesty in Addiction
Dishonesty is common in people who have an addiction. Often the short-term gains of a lie seem to outweigh the long-term consequences. There are a number of reasons why lying may feel like the better option at the time.
Most people with an addiction experience denial. Addiction causes the compulsive seeking out and taking of drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to accept the pain that your addiction causes and either continue in this knowledge or make the difficult decision of recovery.
There is also a lot of shame and stigma surrounding addiction. You might not want to accept that you have an addiction because this is wrongly associated with being weak-willed. Addiction is not a matter of willpower, it is a chronic brain disorder which some people have a much higher risk of developing.
The drugs or alcohol can even directly lead to denial. Substance abuse can cause self-delusion, so it is easier to convince yourself that you do not have a problem. Part of the delusion might be that your addiction is only hurting you and not others. You may therefore believe that your loved ones are being over-judgmental or controlling and therefore avoid the truth so that they do not judge you.
Fear of Consequences
Lying can be a way of protecting yourself and others. While you deny your addiction, there might be a part of you that knows that it will cause your loved ones pain to understand that you have a problem. Being honest with them could cause conflicts which you want to avoid.
Other situations where you need to avoid conflict include at work. Telling your employer that you are sick would avoid the discussion of your addiction and could save your job. While the short-term consequences of these lies seem favorable, in the long-term people will usually lose trust in you.
Lying is especially common among those who have experienced trauma in the past and have not processed it. This is even the case for those who do not have an addiction. Being open and honest about trauma can be very difficult as there is often shame and stigma around mental health, especially among men. Opening up about your past and how it continues to affect you can make you feel extremely vulnerable, and it is therefore easier to either avoid the truth or to outright lie about it.
The more you lie, the easier it becomes to do so. After telling one lie, you need to keep telling more to cover up the first. In time it becomes second nature to lie and it happens almost automatically.
Importance of Honesty in Recovery
Honesty is often the beginning of the recovery process as you need to acknowledge that you have a problem so that you can seek treatment. While some people are forced into rehab, it is unlikely that they will remain sober long-term as recovery is a long process which needs you to be dedicated to it. There are a number of ways that honesty is important in recovery.
If you have been dishonest with your friends and family during your addiction, it is likely that this has affected the trust in those relationships. It is common for people with addiction problems to withdraw from their loved ones. Having healthy relationships is vital for recovery, so it is important to rebuild and create healthy relationships based on honesty.
Being open and honest about your past mistakes can help to start the process of rebuilding trust. You must first accept the impact of your addiction on your loved ones and then make genuine apologies, admitting to the mistakes you have made. It takes time to rebuild trust in relationships but the longer you remain honest and open, the easier it will become, and the more trust will be regained.
Dishonesty is a common trigger for relapsing. Relapse starts with emotional and mental relapse before you even take the substance. Some signs of emotional relapse include bottling up emotions, isolating from loved ones, and stopping support groups. Mental relapse is where you start to think about substances again, even fantasizing about taking them.
If you can be honest with your therapist as well as your family and friends during emotional and mental relapse, this will reduce the chances of you physically relapsing. Creating coping mechanisms with others can help you to stick with them and also help your loved ones to know how they can support you best.
Not Getting Stuck in Recovery
Recovery is a very long process, if not a life-long one. During this time you will have highs and lows. You may even relapse, something which most people do at least once before they reach long-term sobriety. It is important that you are aware of this so that you do not get stuck in recovery.
When things get hard in the recovery process, it can be tempting to hide the challenges because you feel discouraged. Staying honest is important so that you can face the challenges head on. The only way to work through them is to acknowledge them first.
Honesty improves overall well-bring, reducing your chances of experiencing mental health problems. Lying and the fear of getting caught in lies can lead to anxiety and stress which are key relapse triggers.
Being honest with your therapist can also help to deal with the underlying causes of addiction such as past trauma. Working through these problems will help to improve your overall well-being and reduce your risk of relapse.
How to Do It
Being honest is easier said than done once it has become a habit. However there are some things that can help, including journaling and continuing recovery treatment.
Keeping a daily journal can help you to see when you are being dishonest, as you are able to look back on the day to see moments when you may have lied. It is also helpful to put things down on paper because things can become clearer when you write them, reducing your chances of becoming wrapped up in self-delusion.
Sticking with therapy and treatment is important for long-term sobriety. It can hold you to account and provide you with tips for being honest. Your therapist can help you to understand why you have been dishonest in the past, how to recognize your triggers for dishonesty, and how to deal with them. You can get this from individual therapy and also from group therapy or support groups such as twelve-step programs.
The road to honest communication can be very difficult, but the more you stick with it, the easier it will become.