Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal

Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal

Why addicts | alcoholics lie, cheat, steal from those they love the most – WHY? why? WHY?!?*% – becomes one of the many pressing questions that swirl through the minds of those who love them.  At first loved ones are baffled and question themselves, wracking their brains to replay conversations and actions taken, “Maybe I misunderstood what he said when I asked.” “I know I just went to the ATM, yesterday – which purse was I carrying?”  And then family members graduate to making outright excuses, “He must have needed the money.” “I’m sure he was at his girlfriend’s, and she doesn’t use so he must be telling us the truth.”

Family members cannot fathom, let alone let the truth sink in, their loved one really is lying, cheating, stealing to and from them! And so they look for plausible explanations and often get sideways with other family members who aren’t as willing to collude in their version of the “truth,” and together they practice another step in The Dance of the Family Disease of Addiction.

Understanding why an addict | alcoholic lies, cheats and steals can help family members appreciate - it's not their loved one, it's not them - and from there the family member can set healthier boundaries.

Understanding why an addict | alcoholic lies, cheats and steals can help family members appreciate – it’s not their loved one, it’s not them – and from there the family member can set healthier boundaries.

That was certainly true for me. I couldn’t believe it was them so it had to be me. Because if it were them, that meant they were bad – “I mean, really, who lies, cheats and steals from their loved ones?” – and if by chance that were true, then what does that say about me? “How could I love a bad person?”

And so the swirl swirled… until I was fortunate to have a loved one enter treatment for alcoholism. And that’s what finally broke the damn for me. I finally was able to face the truth about addiction, the truth about what coping with various loved one’s addictions had done to me and to start my own recovery journey to unravel the health consequences of coping for decades with secondhand drinking.

So I want to use this post to share one of my key discoveries – the science of cravings – in the event you, too, are looking to answer, “Why an addict | alcoholic lies, cheats and steals.”

Understanding Cravings Helps Explain WHY Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal

To understand cravings is to understand some of the new brain science, namely that the brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do through neurons “talking” to one another in the brain and to and from other neurons throughout the body via the nervous system.

Here’s to Neural Networks and Neurotransmitters: Keys to Brain (and Therefore Physical/Emotional Health)

Much of this science is the result of research of the past 10-15 years, which is the result of advances in imaging technologies that allow scientists and medical professionals to study the live human brain in action and over time, under the influence, with mental illness, after treatment, during its developmental stages and so much more. In the case of addiction, this research is explaining how / why addiction changes the way the brain works.

Addiction and the Brain

Now, to understand cravings. Cravings are what tell a person’s brain “this” (such as drugs or alcohol for the addict | addict) is critical to your survival so you must do it. To explain, I share these two links:

Addiction and the Brain’s Pleasure Pathway  – be SURE to watch Dr. Volkow’s video, top of right column

Let’s Talk About Craving

The important take away is for the recovering addict | alcoholic to understand that a craving is not a command – it’s a craving. It can be managed as was highlighted in the section, “5 Things to Do About Craving” in the above link, “Let’s Talk About Craving”. Equally important is to understand the brain can change – it can heal (see visual “proof” in image below).

Additional Discoveries About the Brain Disease of Addiction Family Members Should Know

1. Alcoholism and drug addiction are two of the diseases of addiction. Addiction is defined as a chronic, often relapsing – but treatable! – brain disease. Check out The Addiction Project for a wealth of information. It’s produced by HBO, NIAAA, NIDA and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This resource by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is another excellent resource: “Brains, Drugs, and Behaviors: the Science of Addiction.”

Addiction recovery takes time because it involves healing the brain.

Addiction recovery takes time because it involves healing the brain.

2. To begin treating addiction all use of the substance of abuse must be stopped in its entirety in order to allow the structural and chemical changes in the brain to change and recover.

These first two discoveries freed me from my continued efforts to try control my loved ones’ drinking and thus to stop my nagging, raging, deal-making and shaming – the behaviors I’d been using in order to “help” them stop [hence the title of my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!]. These first two discoveries also allowed me to respect the person (my loved one) but hate the disease and know that until that person came to grips with the power of addiction, they would/will continue to lie, cheat and steal to drink, no matter how hard they try/tried to control their drinking.

3. Family members have a “brain thing” going on, too. For us – it’s the result of the constant assault on our fight-or-flight stress response system. Our lack of understanding of the disease of addiction causes us to live in fear and anticipation of the other shoe dropping coupled with the frustration over the failures of our varied attempts to do whatever we could to stop it.  So those of us in the family who do not have the drinking problem also need help in order to change some of the behaviors we’ve adopted in order to survive — behaviors  that over time actually get in our way of living healthy, happy, fulfilling lives, regardless of whether our loved one stops drinking or not. Here are two links that may help:

And They All Fall Down…This ‘Thing’ They Call ‘Denial‘ 

What To Do When You’re Concerned About a Loved One’s Drinking

4. Addiction is a young person’s disease caused in part by alcohol or drug abuse during the critical brain developmental stages occurring from ages 12 – 25. According to NIAAA, almost half of alcoholics were addicted by age 21 and two-thirds were addicted by age 25. So if the loved one you are concerned about is your adolescent or young adult son or daughter – don’t wait to take action – it may not be “just a phase” or “something all kids do.” Click here to better understand why.

Where to Take it From Here

As you understand all of this, you will be better able to focus on what you can and cannot do. In a nutshell – you can control your brain and therefore your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You cannot control the brain of another – especially that of someone who has changed the way their brain works as a consequence of their brain disease of addiction.  But know, it can and does get better. It will take time (darn!), and it will be a journey. But it is definitely well worth the effort. To get you started, I leave you with this post:

Detach. Detach With Love. You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

And, please know – you can always email at lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com with further questions (there is no charge for these types of inquiries, BTW).

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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66 Responses to Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal

  1. […] in meditation and think, “Huh, look at that. Isn’t that an interesting way I used to see and behave in the […]

  2. Herby Bell says:

    Wonderful post and information, Lisa. The AMA’s definition of addiction includes mind, body and spiritual components to the chronic disorder. Of course! stealing, lying and cheating are part of the symptom complex in active addiction. Thank you for your clear and concise reminders for early intervention and education. We can do this better and you’re leading the way!/Herby

  3. You always provide such great information, Lisa. Thanks for all you do. I know it is extremely helpful. Bless you.

  4. Charles says:

    Great article.

    In his book, Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, Dr. Paul Ekman estimates, “The average person lies three times per ten minutes of conversation.”

    Three lies in 10 minutes equals 18 an hour, hundreds each week, and thousands of lies a year.

    Why so many lies?

    I’d like to extend your insights to suggest that all lying is a symptom of addictive behaviors.

    Slowly but surely researchers are using brain scanning equipment to extend what is known about dopamine flow and drug (heroin, cocaine, nicotine) addictions to food, sex, social media, and video game addictions. I believe it’s only a question of time until they discover that it’s possible to get addicted to all of Abraham Maslow’s deficiency needs, ESPECIALLY safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status.

    (It’s no accident that Maslow’s deficiency needs correlate with the dopamine-induced survival needs that chimpanzees obsess over.)

    When that happens our species’ penchant for dishonesty will finally make sense.

    • Wow – this is a stunning statistic you quote, Charles, “Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, Dr. Paul Ekman estimates, “’The average person lies three times per ten minutes of conversation.’” I look forward to looking into your work and thank you for adding your comment!

  5. Thank you for sharing this Lisa. It is so helpful for families, especially parents to have a better understanding to the behavior of their family member. Your posts help so much in clearing up the mystery of addiction.

  6. Marie Leslie says:

    Thank you for this post, Lisa. While I thankfully am not dealing with addiction issues in my family, this has helped me understand my response to some other issues that are equally stressful. Now I feel like I have some direction in finding some resources for me. Your posts are always insightful and so helpful without making us feel ashamed or embarrassed by our challenges.

    • I’m so glad to hear these posts help, Marie. There is so much they understand about the brain, now, and as you said, much of what works to heal it for one “thing,” also works equally well with others.

  7. Thanks Lisa. So important for people to slowly but surely get to the point where they don’t take those behaviors (lie, cheat, etc) that their loved ones do directly personally! Big big step right there! Thanks so much….

  8. I agree with all your points. Well written post.

  9. Anita says:

    Nice take on why addicts and alcoholics lie, cheat and steal. This will be very very helpful to family members and friend who do not understand 🙂

  10. Great information here Lisa – it does a lot for the families of addicts to understand the mechanics of addiction – with support, it can be overcome. I liked what you said here to about a craving just being a craving rather than a command – it helps the idea of overcoming something when you realize that craving can (and do) pass.

    • Thanks, Moira! And for the family member, it’s important to picture their “craving” as being the wired, brain-maped Limbic reaction to the emotion – working to let themselves feel the emotion but not give into the reaction! And like an addiction craving, it, too, can pass – especially if it’s not reacted to but rather responded to, which occurs from the Cerebral Cortex part of the brain. Thanks for your comment!

  11. MamaRed says:

    Boy oh boy, this caught me right where I’ve been asking questions the last few days. You share such great stuff Lisa!

  12. Kyczy Hawk says:

    Thank you for this post, the information, the clear expression and the resources. I have already shared this with others and they have found it helpful, too.
    You are a woman of service in this area of healing and I am grateful to you and your voice.

  13. The thought that most addicts were addicted before 21 is amazing! I had no idea! This is powerful knowledge to have in prevention! Great job Lisa!

    • Isn’t it shocking! My hope is that parents learning this will be less likely to look the other way at underage drinking or drug abuse and use this science to help their teen understand why the adolescent brain is not the brain of an adult, therefore drugs and alcohol work differently in the adolescent brain than they do in the brain of an adult.

  14. Addiction truly is a sickness. I am happy that you are there to show people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and to help them understand that they are not alone:) Great post!

  15. Thank you Lisa for helping to explain why addicts/alcoholics lie. Many assume that they do it out of sheer badness without realising that denial is part of the disease. Many times I can remember adamantly denying that I had been drinking even though I knew I had. I could justify not telling the truth because my brain was programmed to cover and protect the alcoholism at any cost.

    • You’re so welcome, Carolyn. Hopefully this will help everyone better understand so they can let go of resentments, stop the denial… – the “stuff” that keeps us all so stuck in whatever role we have in this family disease.

  16. Pat Moon says:

    Thank you for keeping us informed about addictions as well as second hand addiction. Tough love is a very difficult thing to apply but there are times it must be applied.

  17. Robin Strohmaier says:

    Lisa, this is an excellent article. Someone who is very dear has struggled in a marriage that gripped in the snares of alcoholism. It is so very difficult for some to understand. Thank you for sharing your insights and for educating all of us. I admire your dedication and want to thank you for all that you are doing to help explain alcoholism and the tangled webs it can create.

    • Thank you so very much for your kind words, Robin. I am so sorry about your friend. Hopefully, she will find information that will help her better understand it’s a brain disease and what it will take to treat the disease. For me it was finally understanding this, and it was that understanding that helped me finally open my heart and mind to learning what I could and couldn’t do to help my loved ones and what I needed to do to help myself.

  18. Sharon O'Day says:

    The vast knowledge you have brought us regarding addictions, Lisa, has in turn brought clarity to so many of the behaviors that accompany them. This area of lying, cheating and stealing falls right into the mix. Thank you!

  19. Yvonne says:

    I would love to put all your great knowledge to use…but she doesn’t want help and I don’t have the strength to fight….

    • Hopefully she will find this kind of information, someday, and realize what she needs to do to get the treatment she needs. I’m so sorry you’ve had to struggle with this disease in a loved one, Yvonne.

  20. Brilliant post Lisa! I appreciate how you explain things so that family members will understand the addiction and offer them ways to support and love the addict when it’s really hard to do so.

  21. Tired says:

    Good article . Reading from the family member side of the disease . After reading the comments it seems that most are from the analytical and business side of the disease. It would be nice from my perspective to hear more from those going through this. Heartbreaking and maddening to come full circle and back to this oh so frustrating and familiar place 6 years into this disease!

  22. Crumbs! This is such a well written balanced article – so true and so accurate. Looking at your previous posts /articles makes me wish I had seen your work before. How myself and my family could have gained so much succour from your understanding and accurate stance on addiction when for eight years we were trying to save our son.More details can be found at http://bit.ly/18tYg8o

    • Oh Margaret – I’m so very sorry your son died of this disease, and how courageous of you to share your family’s story in hopes it may help others. Should you be interested in writing a bit of your story and introducing your book, “Detach With Love,” in a guest post on this blog, I would love to run it. I’ll email you, as well, in case you don’t see this reply. Thank you so much for your comment and writing your book.

    • Irena says:

      Dear Margaret!
      I was searching to buy your book buy your book, but it is available only for Kindle. I would love to buy a paper book. Where can I find this book? I really need it. Thank you!

      • Hi Irena – If you mean my book (I’m Lisa Frederiksen), I’m not sure which of y books you’re talking about, but many are only in eBook format. They are available in any of the eBook formats, however – Nook, iPad… you can also read them on your computer. As for paperback books – if it’s “If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!” – it’s gone out of print but I just saw there are used ones for sale (also some new) – here’s the link http://www.amazon.com/If-You-Loved-Youd-Stop/dp/0981684408 If it’s my other one, “Loved One In Treatment? Now What!” – there are several of the paperback versions left. Thank you!

  23. Connie says:

    Hello, I have an uncle who is a meth addict and has gone beyond over board with lies, stealing everything.. And he doesn’t realize what he’s doin… He’s gone to the point where he’s goin in to peoples houses to steal… He really really needs help… His mother defends him a lot… That’s why he gets away with things… We can’t no more with this situation…

  24. Hella says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for all you do in this field of addiction. Your article is great!

    Recovery is possible— but today many of the those with a vested interest in making money off the backs of the “poor unfortunates” by chemically enslaving them— under the guise of “harm reduction” —and then loading them up with one crazy diagnosis after the other WHILE the person is still in the grips of the disease and / or in severe withdrawal from alcohol or medications or other drugs— just so they prescribe other mind-bending psychotropic drugs. Alcoholics are easy pickings and no one is questioning them but Dr. Drew Pinsky.

    It is the psychiatrists and others like that who really make me sick these days… their greed is killing/maiming addicts/alcoholics because eventually they will drink again on top of those other meds…and likely die of a toxic overdose eventually. But—those shrinks will have a new car to drive and nice vacation off the burial of another one of their victims.

  25. Danielle says:

    I appreciate this post. And will ask for shorter versions or explanations of “Why an addict steals”. Im a recovering addict and my family is greatly confused and I dont know how to explain or help them understand why ive done some of the things ive done..please help or reply if you can..thanks!

  26. dawn says:

    i am dealing with this an i am now anti social cry constant an beat myself up for it
    i have cancer an have maybe six months left of this life an he didnt care okay well he cared but still takes off for days at a time an leaves me with no food
    for four years now he has lied to me an my child .. he has cheated … stolen from me an he had one charge when we met he now has been arrested 56 times in last year an a half
    he now steals from anyone
    lies about everything to everyone
    his mom passed an he didnt go to see her or anything
    he is not violent would never hit me
    but he has got myself to points of anger i never seen in me before n i have hit him
    oh yes lets not forget he is sick hep c
    i also believe hiv
    he cries daily or nightly wether me friends bosses he cries when confronted with anything its all so fake
    he also is a master at manipulation …

    i love this man but the man i fell in love with is gone … he is 40 an addict addicted to hydromorph an the needle
    what do i do i dont wanna leave but i am so lost an confused as nothing ever changes

  27. D J says:

    Using being under the influence for a reason why addicts steal is a cop out. They steal because they want to. They are the type of people who would steal whether on drugs or not. Here’s an example. A co-worker stole a check and used the excuse “I wasn’t in my right mind. I was on drugs.” I personally have done every drug except for one and I’ve never stolen. The drugs aren’t why they steal it’s because they are liars and cheats to begin with. Take alcohol for example. If one person is kind and happy when they are drunk they are a happy drunk. When someone angry and bitter gets drunk they become more angry. It’s tiresome to see people make excuses and blame the drugs. This removes any responsibility on their part. This is actually doing addicts a disservice instead of making them realize they stole because they wanted to.

  28. Tery Elzey says:

    I am living with an alcoholic. She has been for over 35 years and has been sober off and on for a few years in between. I am love with her, she has cheated on me and probably will continue with her so called friends from AA. She lost her marriage to a married AA member. My head says to kick her out but also with my heart says she can and wants to change. I guess I want this relationship to last so much. I would like to find a sponsor whom I can talk on phone with. I started Al Anon, but have no sponsor.

    • Hi Tery – it may take attending several of the same Al Anon meeting or several different meetings to find someone you’d like to sponsor you. Some meetings have temporary sponsors, so that might be an option for you. Another help are the books, “Courage to Change” and “Hope for Today.” You might pick them up. I found it helpful to use the index to find the topic (anger, resentment, fear…) I was experiencing and then read all of the entries on that topic.

  29. Tina marie Ensz says:

    all really true and good stuff.. It feels hopless I am an addict and my Husband is an alcoholic, can we are we going to make it?

  30. […] more understanding about Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat and Steal from those they love the […]

  31. […] more understanding about Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat and Steal from those they love the […]

  32. Nancy says:

    It just occurred to me this morning (3:30) that my son’s stealing- mainly all my tools is related to his alcohol addiction! I knew a sex addiction could be related. I knew people who used drugs would steal to buy drugs. But this is different. He has the money to buy alcohol, so why steal? It makes sense that it’s a brain issue. Interestingly. My 42 year old son has had an alcohol addiction since he was a teen, as did his father, grandfather, great grandfather——-
    And a judge (when my son was a teen) tried to tell me it was just a phase! I knew better! I have been able to forgive, love, and respect my son, but he has hung on to his addiction. I’m hoping discovering how it changes the brain will help him see things differently and take action.

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