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10 Reasons Why People With Alcoholism Lie

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Lying is a common symptom of addiction.1 People living with addiction often lie to themselves, their families, or their medical team. Learn more about the relationship between lying and addiction and find out ten reasons why people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) may lie.

In this article:

Why Do Alcoholics Lie About Drinking?

1. To Avoid Arguments

Chronic alcohol misuse can affect your interpersonal relationships due to how it affects your mood, your ability to fulfill personal commitments, and how you interact with others. If your loved ones have identified that these changes are related to your alcohol use, they may experience intense negative emotions like frustration, resentment, and anger that can lead to arguments. 2

To avoid accusations, ultimatums, and fights, a person struggling with addiction may lie about their drinking. They may be afraid that family members will react with disappointment, anger, blame, or even with cutting ties if they learn the truth. Lying might seem like the best method for delaying or escaping conflict.

2. To Escape Shame

Many people with substance use disorders feel a deep sense of shame, and addiction is characterized by powerful cravings and compulsive behavior.3,4 If you’re addicted to alcohol, you may work hard to avoid temptation. You may promise yourself or your doctor that you’ll reduce how much you drink. But most people with AUD need outside help to achieve and maintain sobriety, especially if they have used alcohol in high quantities over a long period of time and now experience medically significant withdrawal when attempting to quit.4

If you cannot stay abstinent from alcohol according to your plan, you might feel ashamed or disgusted with yourself. You may blame yourself for “weakness” or a lack of willpower. Lying about drinking can temporarily conceal feelings of shame. But if alcohol misuse and unsuccessful attempts to find sobriety continue to be covered up, your sense of shame may deepen. Shame is a common treatment barrier for addiction.5 Transparency about your drinking can help you access recovery resources and learn to externalize shame.

3. To Reassure Themselves

You may try to convince yourself that you’re not addicted to alcohol. People with substance use disorders may create rules for themselves to prove that they can control their use. They may vow not to drink in the daytime or to drink only certain types of alcohol. As long as you can stick to your rules, you might be able to convince yourself that you don’t have a drinking problem.6

Creating a false story about your drinking habits can make it easier to justify your drinking. You can persuade yourself that you don’t have a problem and don’t need to seek treatment. But these rules cannot keep AUD, which is progressive by nature, under control. No matter how many rules or stories you create, they are not a substitute for the medical, behavioral, and educational services that many people need to find sustainable recovery. 4 If you find it hard to control your drinking, treatment can help.

4. To Access Alcohol

A person with alcohol addiction may lie to keep alcohol accessible or to increase their access to alcohol. A person with alcohol addiction may spend a significant amount of time thinking about alcohol.8 They may create elaborate plans for where and how they can get their next drink.

Lying about your drinking habits might seem like a way to ensure access to alcohol. By lying to family members, you may prevent them from controlling the amount of alcohol in the house and where it is kept. When lying to friends, you may imagine that they would stop inviting you to bars or parties where alcohol is served if they knew the truth. When speaking to your employers, you may worry that you will be seen as less responsible with alcohol or money. 7 For a person with addiction issues, honesty might seem too risky.

But if you spend most of your day planning where to get alcohol or considering how the narrative you create may affect your access to alcohol, you may be suffering from an addiction disorder.8 Treatment can help you overcome the compulsion to acquire alcohol.

5. To Disguise Alcohol Misuse

Many people with alcohol addiction lie about how much they drink.1 They may insist that they follow the CDC’s or their doctor’s guidelines. People with AUD may hide the physical evidence of the extent of their alcohol use, such as hiding empty containers, receipts, or credit card statements.9 Others pay for alcohol in cash to avoid leaving a paper trail. This type of secrecy can be an early warning sign of addiction.

If you live with alcohol addiction, you might be aware that you drink more than you should.4 You may suspect that your drinking habits are unhealthy or even dangerous. But fear and shame may prevent you from asking for help.5 If you find yourself tempted to lie about how much you drink, an addiction specialist can help.

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6. To Get Money

Alcohol is expensive and people who have developed a tolerance to or physical dependence on alcohol may acquire alcohol from others or find ways to obtain the money to buy it themselves. Lying may seem like a great way to ensure that you can buy more alcohol. You may borrow money under false pretenses or use money intended for other purposes on alcohol. You may continually fear that your loved ones will refuse to loan you money or your spouse will check your bank statements and use lies to prevent this.

But lying about your addiction can result in serious financial problems. Excess drinking costs the United States about $250 billion per year.10 Many individuals are also deeply in debt because of addiction, prompting them to drink heavily.11 Debt and heavy drinking may result in job loss, worsening your financial situation. Lying about your drinking can provide a temporary escape, but it doesn’t solve the underlying crisis.

7. To Escape Consequences

Once a person admits they have a drinking problem, their life changes forever. These changes can be positive: the person may seek treatment. Recovery programs can result in long-term sobriety.12 But the short-term changes that accompany addiction treatment can be stressful.

Getting treatment might force you to take a leave of absence from work or school. You might have to change your habits and your social circle. Some people who seek treatment may decide to change jobs. These changes can be intimidating.13

But chronic alcohol misuse can have consequences that may affect any area of your life, such as legal penalties and health problems.14 If you lie about your drinking, you may believe that you can escape these consequences. Lying might seem like a way to avoid interpersonal problems, a negative evaluation at work, or a serious conversation with your doctor. But lying doesn’t prevent a person from experiencing the consequences of heavy drinking; it only delays them.

8. To Deflect Blame

Sadly, addiction carries a strong social stigma. Researchers know that addiction is a disease, not a defect of character, failure of willpower, or a lack of motivation.15 But many people still believe that addiction is a choice. As a result, people living with addiction often feel guilty and ashamed, broken, or powerless. Treatment can help you healthily cope with these emotions. But if you don’t seek treatment, you may decide to lie about your drinking to deflect blame.

Sometimes, a person with addiction might claim that they only drink in certain situations (e.g., with dinner) or to deal with specific problems (e.g., to “unwind” after work). They may describe themselves as “social drinkers” who are influenced by their partner or friends. AUD is indeed a complex disorder. Many factors can influence a person’s drinking habits, including early alcohol exposure, social influence, and trauma history.16 During treatment, you may have a chance to explore some of these factors in your own life. But more importantly, treatment is an opportunity to accept responsibility for your own choices and to learn skills that help you make different ones in the future.

Honesty and accountability are an integral part of recovery. During treatment, patients let go of excuses and blame. The recovery team helps patients move forward and make recovery-focused choices.

9. To Delay Treatment

If you have a drinking problem, you might suspect that you should seek treatment. But checking into rehab or visiting a therapist may seem like a terrifying prospect. A person with alcohol addiction is often afraid to admit that their drinking is out of their control. You might also worry that treatment is too expensive or that it will interfere with your job. Some patients might worry about childcare or eldercare responsibilities.13

Treatment indeed requires significant lifestyle changes. If these changes are intimidating, you might get tempted to lie to delay treatment. You may tell yourself that you’ll seek help tomorrow, next week, or next year. You might also tell yourself that you’ll accept treatment if your doctor insists or if your spouse threatens divorce. In the meantime, you might lie to your doctor or spouse to prevent them from issuing an ultimatum.

Lying can delay treatment. But it doesn’t resolve the underlying problem. Without treatment, addiction affect every part of your life.14 A recovery team can help you protect your relationships, health, job, finances, and other things that matter to you.

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10. To Hide a Relapse

Relapse is a common feature of substance use disorders. Most people with alcohol addiction relapse at least once, and many relapse more than once. 12 But relapses do not mean that treatment has failed and they are not indicators of weakness or a lack of willpower. A relapse is a symptom of the underlying addiction being treated. After a relapse, many patients can regain their sobriety. But honesty is an essential part of the recovery process.

If you’ve relapsed, you might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or discouraged. You may worry that you’ll lose the respect of your recovery community. You may also fear that your significant other, friends, or family will be disappointed in you. However, lying creates an atmosphere of secrecy and shame. Secrecy can increase your risk of future relapses, and lying isolates you from recovery resources.6

You do not have to disclose your relapse openly, but you should consider talking about your relapse part of returning your focus to recovery. After a relapse, reach out to people you trust to support you—such as your professional recovery team, your AA sponsor, or a sober loved one—and they can support you as you return to sobriety.

Does Lying About Drinking Make Me an Alcoholic?

While many individuals with known alcohol addiction lie about their alcohol use, the lying may begin before you know for sure that your alcohol misuse has progressed to the clinical threshold of addiction. If you have alcohol use disorder, you will experience a pattern of behaviors that fall into three clinical categories:17

  1. Impaired control—With AUD, your control of your alcohol use diminishes over time. This reduced control may manifest as urges to use alcohol and using more alcohol than you mean to. You may spend an increasingly significant amount of your time getting, drinking, and recovering from the effects of drinking alcohol. You may express a desire to stop using alcohol or attempt to stop using alcohol, but be unsuccessful.
  2. Social impairment—Your alcohol use may affect both activities you enjoy and those you feel a responsibility to perform. You may also act differently when intoxicated than you ever would when sober.
  3. Risky use—The criterion of “risky use” is not use of the substance itself, but rather not stopping to use the substance when you have a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological issue likely or directly linked to the substance.

Treatment can help you overcome your addiction. A rehab center can offer the support and medical guidance you need.

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  1. Sarkar, A. (2019). Characteristics of Drug-Dependent People. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy (2004). Chapter 2 Impact of Substance Abuse on Families. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
  3. Flanagan, O. (2013, October 8). The Shame of Addiction. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4, 120.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). MedlinePlus.
  5. Scherer, M., Worthington, E. L., Hook, J. N., & Campana, K. L. (2011, October 25). Forgiveness and the Bottle: Promoting Self-Forgiveness in Individuals Who Abuse Alcohol. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 30(4), 382–395.
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  7. S. Office of Personnel Management. (2019). Alcoholism In the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors.
  8. Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program. Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder | Information for Family and Friends. Indian Health Service.
  9. Military Health System. Getting Help.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 30). Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy.
  11. Collins, S. E. (2016). Associations Between Socioeconomic Factors and Alcohol Outcomes. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(1), 83–94.
  12. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (2016). Recovery: The Many Paths to Wellness.
  13. Rapp, R. C., Xu, J., Carr, C. A., Lane, D. T., Wang, J., & Carlson, R. (2006). Treatment barriers identified by substance abusers assessed at a centralized intake unit. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 30(3), 227–235.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Alcohol Use and Your Health. Alcohol and Public Health.
  15. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, March 29). Addiction Is a Disease. NIDA for Teens.
  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Underage Drinking. Alcohol and Public Health.
  17. American Psychiatric Association. (2014). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
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