Lying and Paranoia

Addicts live in a world of fluid affinity to objective facts — a charitable way of saying we’re notorious liars when we’re using.

Addicts have to lie for many reasons: to get and consume drugs; to keep others ignorant of how low they’ve sunk and how out of control they’ve become (an act of kindness in their minds); to cover for all the things they simply can’t remember but can’t admit to not remembering because that would confirm the problem they deny; to temporarily get through any given moment and put off difficult conversations; to manipulate their loved ones into getting off their backs. Addicts will either figure out what someone else wants to hear and tell them that, or make something up which absolves themselves of all the free-floating blame that accompanies the precarious addict life. Lying is necessary to maintain denial.

Thus, paranoia comes with the territory. The deeper into addiction, the worse the paranoia. It results, for example, from an addict’s inability to remember what he did and who he might have screwed over while under the influence, especially in a blackout: addicts avoid anyone who might be angry or resentful at what they did that they can’t remember (which means just about everyone). Though all addicts share this trait, some drugs seem to induce more intense paranoia. My crack-head and speed-freak friends, for example, always seemed to wind up in a tiny space like a closet, or in one story I heard, a fireplace, alone with their stash and overwhelming suspicion. And sometimes a weapon.

It may seem that active addicts are simply sociopaths, that they lie without conscience. But, except in very rare cases, it’s not true. Addicts know they’re liars and it eats at them even as they deny it. That’s why they minimize their use, a clear indication they know they have a problem, while simultaneously denying they could possibly have a problem.

So addicts know they live fundamentally dishonest lives. They have an over-riding desire to hide the central fact of their existence, their need for drugs, behind a facade of normalcy. And they know it even as they deny it, so they have to lie. I heard this stated with eloquent simplicity from an AA speaker who described the addicts’ code as, “Lie your ass off and hope for the best.”

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