“Ben Is Back”: Addicts Lie to Themselves and Others

…about a mother and son dancing around the issue of trust over 24 hours of fraught tension. There’s both joy and a threat in its title: Addicts are notorious liars, and Ben has proved himself a master of the game. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, regarding Ben Is Back

Addicts say what they need to say in order to stay sick, and Holly [Ben’s mom] beats herself up for believing any of it. David Ehrlich, IndieWire

They lie reflexively…David Edelstein, Vulture

These words, not from addiction specialists but from movie critics who’ve seen Peter Hedges‘s new film Ben Is Back, starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mom and son, are meant to express the core issue of the movie. How do loved ones trust an addict, whether in recovery or not?

The harsh truth is that active addicts lie. First and foremost, addicts lie to themselves. According to DrugAbuse.com, five lies of this nature:

  1. My addiction doesn’t affect anyone else.
  2. I’d never be able to manage my problems without drugs/alcohol.
  3. I’m in control of my substance abuse; I can stop whenever I want to.
  4. But, I’m not like so-and-so…he/she’s really in bad shape.
  5. I don’t care about my life and I don’t care if my addiction kills me.

Addicts also lie to everyone else. From the Narconon website:

Nearly every family of an addicted person encounters this shocking fact: The addicted lie and manipulate those around them. Even those who have long been close to one’s heart—like one’s children or a spouse—will lie to one’s face. These were people who were loved and trusted, sometimes for decades before addiction came to live in the home.

It’s a brutal reality that it takes some families years to come to grips with. Some families never do come to grips with it. But every day that a family fails to realize that they are being lied to and manipulated, addiction gets to thrive and maintain its of influence.

Narconon proceeds to describe some of the reasons addicts lie:

    • Drug cravings overwhelm any components of integrity
    • Drug use “shut(s) down the user’s ability to be analytical”
    • Both impaired ability to be analytical and the desire for the drug leads to actions, including crimes, that betray formerly held morals
    • “Now add guilt to the mix. Guilt acts like concrete laid on top of the analytical shutdown, cravings and crimes. Now the addicted person struggles with a burden that can’t be faced. The person is now locked in that destructive pattern of behavior.”

J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD, co-author of Almost Addicted, lists “Five Must-Do Things if a Family Member Is Abusing Drugs” (Psychology Today):

  1. Educate yourself about addiction
  2. Do not allow yourself to be abused
  3. Don’t “enable” the behavior by colluding with the user in some way or covering up the abuse
  4. If any essential aspect of your own life is in jeopardy, seek professional help
  5. Attend to your own health and well-being

At the same time, of course, a family member can encourage the addict to seek help and/or to stay in treatment. One effective approach toward this aim involves maintaining and cultivating one’s compassion, “the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to healing addictions of any kind,” according to Beverly Engel, LMFT, Psychology Today.

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