How Addicts Rationalise The Irrational


To an outsider, the behaviour of an addict is completely irrational. Alcohol or drugs is obviously destroying their life, yet they continue to engage in this activity. Even when the substance abuse is pulling the individual towards an early grave or causing problems for loved ones, their work, financially, with education/studies or their friends.

Those who have never been dependent on an addictive substance will see this behaviour as highly irrational. They do not have the addict’s ability to rationalise the irrational in order to explain away their own self destruction. This individual is not willfully doing something to cause harm to themselves or other people. As far as they are concerned, what they are doing is right, necessary and may even think that their thought processes and behaviours are normal.

This is why directly challenging the addict will often be ineffective because it just causes the addict to adopt a defensive response and may simply compound or cause the situation to become worse, and potentially damage relationships rather than improve the situation and beneficially help the person in question.


Inside The Mind Of An Addict

Those who have become addicted to alcohol or drugs will be able to justify their behaviour in their own mind. When their life begins to fall apart as a result of their substance abuse and overall consequences of their addiction and they will have plenty of excuses for what is happening and why. Instead of seeing their addictive behaviour as the cause of the problem they are more likely to see this as the one thing that is helping them to cope with things. Denial and cognitive dissonance give the addict the ability to explain away their behaviour and attitudes toward addiction. It is this unique way of thinking that can keep people trapped in addiction for many more years than they necessarily “have” to be and some will never get beyond these justifications and attitudes.


Logic Of The Addict

The justifications that the addict uses to explain away their behaviour will sound logical to them. They include the ideas:

  • Alcohol or drugs gives them the ability to cope with all the stresses that they are experiencing in their life & substances are the one thing that they can depend on.
  • The problems in their life are not caused by substance abuse. The real culprit is bad luck and/or other people.
  • Those individuals who complain about the addict’s behavior just do not know how to enjoy themselves.
  • Those people who do not drink or take drugs lead boring and meaningless lives.
  • Substance abuse is the sign that somebody is really creative and special.
  • It is other people complaining about the substance abuse that is the real source of the problems. If these interfering people minded their own business everything would be fine.
  • If they gave up the substance abuse it would mean living a life of deprivation. They would never be able to enjoy themselves again and it would be more like serving a prison sentence than living a happy, prosperous and productive life.
  • Those who give up substance abuse are never going to be happy again.
  • People working in the recovery community are not really trying to help. They are charlatans and do not really understand substance abuse and don’t understand me.
  • The risks of substance abuse are exaggerated and wouldn’t happen to me.
  • Even if the individual accepts that addictive behavior can destroy lives they may still believe that they are a special case and an exception to the rule.

20 Lies Substance Abusers Tell Themselves & Others

Lies can be things you say to others as well as things you tell yourself. Lies you tell yourself are rationalisations and are a psychological defence mechanism.

When you tell lies to yourself, you protect yourself from seeing the truth and from acting to correct something that is both painful or unacceptable in your life. That’s the most likely answer to the question, “Why do drug addicts lie?”. It’s to protect themselves from seeing the unpleasant truth and act upon the true facts and figures of addiction.

Lies That Substance Abusers Tell Themselves Include:

1. “I don’t have an addiction”

Addicts excuse their behavior with the phrase, “I don’t have an addiction.” They may say, “Well, I just like drinking” or, “I only take things occasionally.” These phrases are rationalisations for the fact that they can’t stop when they want to and that they feel compelled to continue abusing substances despite the negative consequences to their health, well-being and relationships.

Acknowledging you have an addiction is the first step on the road to recovery. It may also be the most difficult. It opens the door to the possibility that your behaviour is irrational, destructive and dangerous. Many people take a long time to reach the conclusion that they have an addiction. They may deny it until they’re in the hospital with liver failure or in prison from a drug dealing charge. It can be the hardest thing to say but it’s also the best thing to voice since it is the first step to get help.

2. “I can’t live without substance XYZ”

Some people do know they have a substance abuse problem, but they can’t accept their life without the substances. Drugs and alcohol change the chemistry of the brain itself, so addicts experience strong cravings for the substances that they’re addicted to. These cravings fool addicts into believing they cannot live without substances. The physical sensation of craving is hardwired into the brain, which affects an addict’s emotions and thinking abilities.

Withdrawal symptoms can also make it feel as if you’ll never be able to live without substances. It’s no fun to feel sick, shaky and otherwise ill as your body’s chemistry sends signals that it “needs” more of the substances. It’s important to know that if you feel like you can’t live without your substances of choice, it’s just your addiction’s way of keeping you enslaved to substance abuse & addiction. Many people before you have successfully quit alcohol or drugs, and you can too. No one is beyond hope!

3. “I can stop anytime I want to”

You may wish this were true or you may still feel this to be true. However, unless you have proven that you can successfully quit and abstain from using drugs or alcohol without cravings or withdrawal symptoms, you can’t truly stop anytime you want to.

A major sign of addiction is that substance abusers can’t stop using despite their best intentions. It has nothing to with willpower, strength or even defect of their character. The body itself changes as it adapts to alcohol and drugs, setting up a cascade of chemicals that causes physical cravings and withdrawal.

Psychologically, your mind also craves drugs and alcohol for various reasons. These reasons don’t go away on their own, and they remain even if you try to quit. Without addressing these reasons in recovery, you’re still vulnerable to restarting your habit.

Stopping anytime you want to stop is a myth that many addicts continue to believe and a lie they tell themselves to justify their drinking and drug habits. If they feel they can stop at will, then it’s okay to continue, they tell themselves. Unfortunately, by then it is often too late to stop voluntarily.

4. “It’s not that much.”

A better question is, “How much is too much?” For an alcoholic, one drink is too many — and not enough. For a drug addict, one snort or hit is enough to set the whole addiction cycle spinning into gear again.

“How much” is a relative term when it comes to addiction. What’s too much for one person may not be enough for another. Tolerance develops over time in the addiction process. This means the body adapts to ever-increasing amounts of alcohol or drugs, requiring more to achieve the original high.

One person may be an addict who drinks half a bottle of wine every night. Another may drink a quart of Scotch each day, or take increasing amounts of Oxy. It doesn’t matter how much you take. It’s the fact that your mind, body and spirit crave the substance and can’t live without it. Physical dependence, psychological dependence and an inability to stop on your own are all signs of addictions.

“It’s not that much” is just excuse addict repeat to justify continuing their substance abuse. A little bit can be too much for an addict.

5. “I only use occasionally.”

Sometimes addiction isn’t a daily occurrence. Binge drinkers may remain sober throughout the week, handling responsible jobs, parenting and school with sobriety. But come the weekend, they can’t stop themselves. They are addicted to both alcohol or drugs and the heavy use on the weekends.

As with quantity, timing and frequency aren’t hallmarks of addiction, either. Addicts who use infrequently may still find themselves spiraling out of control as their tolerance and the need for greater amounts rises. Using only occasionally does not necessarily mean you aren’t addicted.

6. “I’m not as bad as [insert name].”

Justifying your own drug and alcohol use by pointing to someone else’s habits is also a means of deflecting criticism away from yourself. You cannot compare your own illness with someone else’s.

Two people may have diabetes, but just because your blood sugar reading is 120 and someone else’s is 130 doesn’t mean you’re healthier than they are. You both must act to control your blood sugar levels before your organs are damaged by the excess glucose.

Likewise, comparing your own substance abuse to someone else’s isn’t proving how healthy you’re compared to them. You may both be very sick and in need of treatment.

7. “I just like the feeling.”

Everyone likes to be relaxed, happy, energetic or whatever the feeling is that substances give you. But those substances give you more than pleasant feelings. They also change how your body works.

Your brain responds to the changes in neurotransmitters by shutting down some and releasing others to maintain homeostasis so that the body stays alive. Over time, your quest to re-create those pleasant feelings can change your body, so cravings for more of your chosen substance arise. At that point, your body is physically dependent on the substance. It’s more than liking the feelings — now you must have the substance to avoid negative feelings that come in the substance’s absence.

8. “It hasn’t changed me at all.”

Addicts often use this as an excuse to offset comments that their personality has changed since substance abuse has taken over their lives. Unfortunately, few of us have the self-knowledge to see how we’ve changed over time, for good or for bad. Drugs and alcohol change moods and perceptions. This in turn alters personality, which does indeed change how you act and behave.

9. “I’m not hurting anyone.”

Another lie that addicts tell themselves is that their behavior isn’t hurting anyone. They don’t want to believe their need to get drunk or high has hurt their children when they aren’t there for them after school, at sports or for other events. They don’t see that their inability to be present with family and friends is hurting others.

No one exists in complete isolation. An individual’s behavior impacts people around them, whether they like it or not. Drug and alcohol abuse hurt family, friends, coworkers and the community.

10. “I can still do what I’ve always done.”

Like the lie about stopping anytime, addicts tell themselves they can still do the same activities they’ve always done even when their substance abuse has hurt their health. They may not realize the toll that drinking and substance abuse have taken on their mental and physical health.

Substance abuse takes over a person’s life to the point where they no longer exercise, get enough sleep or eat a healthy diet. All of this takes toll on a person’s ability to think clearly and participate in many activities they once loved.

11. “That DUI wasn’t my fault.”

Addicts will often blame others for their own problems. Nothing is ever their fault. This lie is prevalent whether they’ve tripped on the stairs during a drunken binge or been pulled over for a DUI after a night of partying. A DUI isn’t their fault — the cops had it in for them. They didn’t trip because they were drunk — the carpet on the stairs is loose. It’s always someone else’s fault. Blaming others for the consequences of their substance abuse is easier on the conscience than realizing your life is spiraling out of control.

12. “I don’t drink in the morning, so I’m not an alcoholic.”

Because one of the known symptoms of alcoholism is needing a wake-up drink, there’s a myth that you aren’t an alcoholic unless you find yourself drinking in the morning. It doesn’t matter what time you drink. An alcoholic can’t stop drinking once they start, and they continue to drink even when drinking negatively affects their health, wellness or well-being.

Drinking at night can be equally as destructive as drinking in the morning. Hiding alcohol, lying about how much you drink and finding ways to drink when you know you shouldn’t are all indications your alcohol consumption has spiraled into addiction. Time of day does not matter. Among the many lies alcoholics tell themselves, this one can keep them from seeking help if they continue to believe morning drinking is what distinguishes them from being a full-blown alcoholic.

13. “I only drink [wine/beer/whatever], so I can’t be an alcoholic.”

Alcohol is alcohol, whether it’s found in beer, wine, hard liquor, fermented cider or cough medicine. Any type of alcohol can set off cravings in an alcoholic, and any type of alcohol can be addictive. The type of substance abused doesn’t matter as much as other factors, especially the ability to control your drinking.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there are many stories of people switching from hard liquor to beer and convincing themselves this will cure their alcoholism. It doesn’t, because the basic problem remains. Among lies alcoholics tell, this one is very common but equally false. You can be an alcoholic addicted to beer, wine, vodka or anything in between.

14. “I’m still employed, so my drug/alcohol use isn’t so bad.”

Some substance users feel that just because they can still get up when the alarm clock goes off and make it to work on time, their drug or alcohol use isn’t a problem. Although getting fired from work and being unable to hold down a job is one sign of a chronic substance user, the opposite isn’t true.

Just because you can hold down a job and stay sober at work doesn’t mean you don’t have a substance abuse problem. There are many substance users who abuse drugs or alcohol once they’re outside of work but they can remain completely sober or drug free while on duty.

15. “The kids don’t know what’s going on, so it’s okay.”

Kids not only know, but they care deeply when their parents take drugs or drink. Even at a very young age, children are aware of the shifting moods, unreliability and instability that goes along with living with a chronic substance user. Drugs and alcohol change your behaviour at home, which in turn changes your relationship with your kids. We often want to hide our drug or alcohol addiction from our children but continuing substance abuse will do a lot more damage than getting yourself help and support. Your family may also need help and support and that is ok.

We all want to do our best for our children and getting help and support for them too may be what’s needed. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. You’re doing it to help them and the sooner you get help, the better it will be.

An addict puts their substance use before everything else in life, including family, work, community and even health. Therefore, even if you’re careful to keep your substances out of the house, your children will still sense the change in you. Kids are both smart and perceptive and they can tell when their parents are putting something else first.

Parent’s substance use always impacts their children. It may not be noticeable right away but your substance use does affect your children and other immediate family members.

16. “These are prescription medications, so it’s okay to take more of them.”

Prescription medications are one of the most commonly abused medicines across the world. An estimated 2.4 million people use them recreationally, or use them when they are not medically needed (used for their euphoric effects instead) in the UK alone. You can become addicted to prescription medicine just as easily as you can to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.

Just because your GP or Doctor has written a prescription for you does not mean what you’re taking won’t cause you to become addicted to them or won’t be abused for the euphoric side-effects that some medications can cause.

You should always use prescription medicines exactly as directed, only when clinically needed & use them as little as possible to reduce the risk of addiction. If you need them for a longer-term medical complaint, you should speak to your GP or Doctor about alternative medications that are less addictive. Signs of addiction include taking more than the prescribed dose, taking the medication more frequently than recommended or taking them for the pleasurable or positive feelings they create.

Some people think that because such medication comes from a GP or Doctor and dispensed through a pharmacy, it is completely safe. All prescription medicines carry risks. Doctors and Pharmacists are trained to prescribe and dispense them at the correct dose to minimise harm using procedures that are designed to highlight those who may be abusing them, however this doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.

17. “I only drink or use on the weekends, so I can’t be an addict.”

Weekend benders can be just as bad, if not more so than constant, steady use. You can be an alcoholic or a substance addict even if you only get high or drunk at the weekends. Time and day don’t matter. If you crave substances, use them to escape life, stress or emotional pain. Those weekend indulgences may have/could become an addiction.

18. “I’m under a lot of stress — it’s okay to kick back with this stuff and relax.”

There are many ways you can relax and let go of stress without drugs or alcohol. Lies that both drug addicts and alcohol addicts tell, include excusing their behaviour due to stress, a single event, a memorial, anniversary or any other event to give themselves a reason for taking their substance(s).

If you find you can’t relax and unwind except with drugs and alcohol, you have more problems than simple stress or emotional pain. Although substances such as alcohol can initially make you feel relaxed and sleepy, over time, the “bounce-back” effect from your neurotransmitters can make you feel even more uptight and wound up than before. Most drugs have a boomerang effect, causing even more stress as they wear off and the cravings for more of that substance begin. In reality, they make your situation worse and create more problems than the ones you started with and for which you tried using drugs or alcohol to help with. Ultimately, they only make things worse.

Using drugs or alcohol as an excuse to unwind, is a common lie or an excuse addicts tell themselves and others to rationalise their substance use. Being able to blame something or someone else for the reason they use substances is easier to say than being honest and admitting that you use or drink because of an addiction. However, learning new and healthier ways to relax is critical for recovery.

19. “Hey, my drinking or substance abuse doesn’t affect anyone else but me & it’s my problem, not anyone else’s.”

Think about all the people you interact with daily. From the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep, you probably interact with dozens or more coworkers, colleagues, friends and family. Waiters, cashiers, cab drivers, strangers waiting at the bus stop — there are dozens of people you don’t even realise you interact with.

If you’re cranky, angry, upset or acting strange, you’re inadvertently affecting them. Substance use changes your personality and can make your behaviour unpredictable. Snapping at the waitress over a cup of cold coffee because you feel hungover hurts her. Yelling at your kids for being noisy because your head hurts after a night of partying or shouting at your parents because you’re withdrawing and don’t feel well affects them either overtly or covertly too.

We each influence many people. Your drinking and substance use affects everyone around you, whether you recognise it or not. It’s a lie to think your behaviour is only your business and that what you do in private doesn’t change your relationship with others. It’s all interconnected in one way or another.

20. “I don’t care about the long-term consequences of this stuff. I just need to get through today.”

This last lie that addicts tell themselves is another form of denial. If you can tell yourself you don’t care about long-term consequences and that only today matters, then it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking another drink, pill or hit of your favorite substance is okay.

There are always long-term consequences to your behaviour. It’s hard sometimes to realise what they are because the daily action of drinking or drug use may not immediately make you feel bad. If you overeat by just 100 calories a day, within a year, you could gain considerable weight. There are consequences to your actions, even if you don’t feel them immediately.

The same may be said for substance use. Today, you may not feel too bad. But what damage have you done to your brain, your liver, your heart, your lungs, your mind, thinking, emotions, memory and general mental health? What changes have happened in your family, friends, colleagues and what bad feelings have been generated with your children or your spouse? Drug and alcohol use is never a solitary situation, even though it may feel as though it is.

Addiction has long-term consequences. Just getting through today isn’t living, it’s existing. Your life is worth so much more than that and you deserve to be happy and live a life full of joy, happiness, prosperity and productivity. Recovery can help you get it back


Addiction & Denial

Denial is a type of psychological defence mechanism that addicts employ to explain away their behaviour. It means that the individual can refuse to face the reality of their situation. Humans can use denial as a means to protect their ego and in some instances this can be a good thing. The individual is not willfully trying to fool themselves, but it is just a way for the unconscious mind to deal with uncomfortable truths and realities. For example, if a person is given a terminal diagnosis by their GP or Doctor, and told they only have a short time to live, they can temporarily use denial to soften the blow. This will give them a bit of time to adjust to the news.

In the short term, denial can be useful for humans, but if they become trapped in this state of mind, it becomes harmful. It means that the individual loses touch with reality. In the case of addiction, it means that the individual is able to engage in extremely self-destructive behaviours indefinitely. If the individual fails to get beyond their deluded thinking, this denial can lead them to an early death in it’s most extreme form.


Cognitive Dissonance & Addiction

Cognitive dissonance occurs when people hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. In most instances, this conflict will be in relation to how the individual thinks and how they behave.

For example, the individual may know that drinking too much alcohol is harmful, yet they regularly engage in this behaviour. Such internal conflicts cause tension in the mind of the addict, so the individual needs to resolve this as quickly as possible. People can overcome cognitive dissonance by attempting the following:

  • They can change their behaviour so that it fits in with their thoughts.
  • They can change their thoughts so that it rationalises their behaviour.
  • They can adopt new thoughts to explain away the behaviour.

Using the example of the person who drinks too much we mentioned above, they can either:

  1. Stop drinking so much.
  2. Abandon the idea that drinking too much is harmful.
  3. Adopt the new idea that while drinking too much might be bad for other people they are an exception to the rule.

Cognitive dissonance can mean that the individual is unable to see the reality and gravity of their situation. They become trapped in ignorance and denial and they will be convinced that their behaviour is rational, even though others can see that their behaviour is both dangerous and displaying signs of addiction.


Beyond The Logic Of The Addict

In order to escape the ever worsening, downward spiral of destruction, the individual needs to see beyond their current thought processes that are being skewed by addiction. This usually occurs when the individual is in a position where they can no longer avoid the reality of the situation and it can happen when:

  • The individual reaches a point where they feel so overwhelmed by the problems in their life caused by alcohol and drugs that they can see beyond their denial. Hitting “rock bottom” means that the individual is sick and tired of feeling sick and tired!
  • It is not necessary for the individual to lose everything before they hit rock bottom. Some people will have a high rock bottom where they have lost relatively little but feel ready to stop.
  • An addiction Keyworker or Counsellor can guide them to see the reality of their situation. The therapist usually doesn’t directly challenge the addictive behaviour but instead encourages the individual to see the truth for themselves through various different therapeutic techniques and exercises.
  • The addict is often more willing to trust those people who have already escaped an addiction. This clean or sober person will understand their situation and will be better able to explain the reality of what is happening and empathise with the persons situation and position.
  • It is usually easiest to communicate with an addict when they are at a low point. For example, they are recovering from a bad hangover or while they are withdrawing. At these times of suffering, their denial will usually be at its lowest point.
  • If the addict is introduced to some recovery resources such as books, podcasts, videos, blogs or online articles, they may be influenced and motivated by the content. Even if they are not prepared to accept that they are an addict yet, this material can still nudge them in the right direction and help them to start changing their way of thinking.

Logic Of An Addict In Recovery

Even when people escape an addiction, they can still be at risk of illogical and irrational thinking. Those who develop “dry drunk syndrome” will be physically sober but they will still behave and think in many ways like an addict that is still in active addiction. They will treat recovery as something to be endured and they may be just biding time until they once again, return to their original substance that they developed an addiction to, develop an addiction to a different substance or even a prescribed medication. In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they talk about people who haven’t drank for years but have still not managed to become sober.

In AA they talk about people who haven’t touched alcohol in years but still not managed to achieve sobriety. Such individuals are seen as suffering from a condition known as “dry drunk syndrome”. This person might no longer be drinking, but their behaviour is much the same as when they were in the midst of their addiction. They continue to use maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with life, and so they never find real peace and happiness.

Dry drunks will usually be full of resentment and other types of “stinking thinking” (thinking negatively or being pessimistic all the time). Their family may complain that they are as hard to be around, as they were while they were drinking. Some dry drunks will eventually relapse but many continue to live an unsatisfying life away from addiction. They may view their time away from alcohol as being similar to serving a prison sentence. Dry drunk syndrome would be considered almost the complete opposite to abstinence and recovery.


Techniques That May Help

Here are some of the techniques you can use to help with irrational thinking.

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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