For the Family & Loved Ones

Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat, Steal

This article originally appeared on and is writtn by Lisa Frederiksen

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.”

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.

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.

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?”

drawing the connection between secondhand drinking and secondhand smoke

And so the swirl swirled… until I was fortunate to have a loved one enter treatment for alcoholism in 2003. 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. Secondhand Drinking refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others.

So I want to use this post to share some of my key discoveries in the event you, too, are looking to answer, “Why an addict | alcoholic lies, cheats and steals.” And before I continue, I want to let you know there’s been a great deal of research and advanced understandings about the term addiction (drug addiction or alcoholism), which is now diagnosed as a severe substance use disorder, as well as the terms alcohol or drug abuse; addict and alcoholic. This article provides clarification. For the purposes of this article, I’ll use the terms most of society uses – addiction, addict, alcoholic.]

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 others throughout the body via the nervous system.

Much of this science is the result of research of the past 10-15-20 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 and the power of 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. They are one of the four characteristics of this brain disorder (disease). The other three are loss of control, physical dependence and tolerance.

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 Addiction Documentary linked above. Equally important is to understand the brain can change.

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 (aka brain disorder). This resource by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is another excellent resource: “Brains, Drugs, and Behaviors: the Science of Addiction.”

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.

They 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 and 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.

4. Addiction is often a young person’s disease caused in part by alcohol or drug abuse during the critical brain developmental stages occurring from ages 12 – 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.”

Where to Take it From Here

10th Anniversary Edition "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!"

I urge you to read my latest book published in 2019 — not so I can sell books but so you can learn about the huge scientific advances that explains all of this in layman’s terms.

The first half covers alcohol use disorders (drinking problems) – how they’re developed and treated and what long-term recovery requires. In the case of alcohol abuse, for example, it’s possible to learn to “re-drink,” but in the case of alcoholism, it must be total abstinence from alcohol, yet in both cases, there are other brain healing aspects necessary in order to address “why” a person finds themselves drinking to these extents in the first place (e.g., trauma, anxiety, depression, social environment…). As importantly for readers of this post, it explains why addicts/alcoholics lie, cheat, steal.

The second half explains what happens to family members and friends and what they can do to help their loved ones, as well as what they can do to take back control of their physical and emotional health and the quality of their lives.

This is the link to the Amazon version. It comes in both paperback and Kindle (which can be read on an iPad or other eReader device). With the Kindle format, you’re able to get it immediately, which may be helpful for right now, and it allows you to read it without anyone knowing, which may also be helpful. It is also sold by other retailers and available in some libraries, as well.

Bottom Line

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.