Deception as a Defense in Addiction – Third Stage of Change

deception as a defense for addiction 2 people talking dark sky

The addicted brain requires deception to keep the disease of addiction moving forward …


This article is the 3rd in our series of 4 articles on the primary defenses of addiction. In this article we will focus on deception as a defense in addiction. Families and loved ones are the brunt of deception by those developing a substance use disorder (SUD). This defense is not only acted out on families, it is employed in every life situation of the person with an SUD. This is because the progression of addictive disease requires the behavior of deceiving to become a pervasive lifestyle. 


Deception (noun): the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid.


Before reading any further in this article, I would recommend a quick review of the first 2 articles on “denial” and “justification” to get your thinking focused on the defenses of addiction. Please click the links below:


Denial of Addiction – the First Stage of Acceptance


Deception as a Defense in Active Addiction 

As addictive disease progresses, the requirement for practicing deception becomes highly persistent in the day to day life of someone with a SUD.  For someone with progressing addictive disease to express the depth of thought and activity related to their excessive substance consumption, they must become aware of the seriousness of their problem.  But addiction simply does not allow that to happen.  Remember when I referred to Robin Barnett’s discussion of how addiction exists to serve itself?  Addiction must serve itself because the addicted brain requires deception to keep the disease of addiction moving forward.  


Practicing deception as a defense ruins trust. Relationships are built on trust.  And trust is required between human beings in all situations. Trust is a building block of family life, employment, socialization, and the leading of a law abiding and safe life. Addiction is titled a “complex, chronic and progressive brain disease”. It is also a “bio-psycho-social” disease, and a family disease.  So, the loss of trust impacts every aspect of a person’s existence in society!


deception 2 people talking one explaining

Deception makes it particularly difficult to not personalize their brain disease.


Loss of trust, the negative impact of deception …

If you have a close personal relationship with someone who is developing a SUD, you don’t need me to tell you that the loss of trust has been destructive to your life. And that almost every area of your life has also been negatively impacted by your loved one’s disease. They have lied to your face and denied it. No wonder we call deception a “crazy maker” behavior. 


And here is what happens. They have sold gifts from you, given out of love, just to have money to “support their habit”. Or they may have stolen money from your wallet or the family bank account (and denied it). Maybe they stole medication from ill family members. Or they did not show up for significant events, left children unattended or waiting for a ride that never came. And when confronted, they lied. 


Finding a way to not personalize the deception

These practices of deception do make it particularly difficult to not personalize their brain disease. They have violated family rules, norms, and your trust. You feel like you can’t depend on them to follow through and do what they promised for you and your family. But, the deception of addiction is just that – “of addiction”. The brain malfunction, on multiple levels, is causing this behavior.


The above behaviors are not purposely done to harm or hurt you or your family. It is important to identify and express your feelings while not personalizing your loved one’s addictive disease process.  It is also paramount that you protect yourself and vulnerable people around the family member with a progressing SUD.


The “what do I do list” of deception, is similar to what has been recommended for other defenses of addiction. One must be strategic and consistent with responses and follow-through. In that regard, in her book, Addict in the House, Robin Barnett, devotes an entire chapter to communicating with an addicted love one. Ms. Barnett cautions family members and those with significant relationships, to be aware they are frequently good targets for deception. Why? Because we have trusted them in the past. And we don’t want to believe they could be addicted because we are emotionally invested in them and do not want to believe they could be addicted.


What to Do List – Deception as a Defense in Addiction

  1. Make safety of vulnerable people a priority.
  2. Build and use your support system for backup.
  3. Be consistent with responses to deceptive behaviors.
  4. Use “I statements”, along with other effective communication skills.
  5. And never argue about how you think or feel.
  6. But always follow through with any stated consequences.
  7. And when necessary, seek professional help for support.


The escalation of deception in someone with a SUD is a sign of progressing chronic disease.  It is also a signal that their vulnerability is escalating. By consistently responding to those deceptive behaviors, in a respectful, non-judgmental and direct manner, your loved one will begin to feel the depth and seriousness of their problem. That means they are more likely to seek and have success in treatment.


deception as defense 2 people talking

“I think, I just heard some deceptive words from you, is that what you intended?”


Deception in Early Recovery

A key component in the treatment of addiction is learning to be honest again. It goes right along with learning about the brain disease and the impact the disease has on individual lives. 12-step groups and treatment programs focus on helping those with SUDs become more personally accountable and responsible. This focus is the direct opposite of deception. And honesty and deception cannot occur together. Many people learn “HOW” in treatment. They learn that being Honest, Open and Willing is to begin to recover their lives from the destruction of addiction. There is NO PLACE for deception in an effective recovery program.


As a loved one of someone in early recovery, you might observe behaviors that seem like deception or partial truths are behind them. Implement those good communication skills listed above. Kindly and respectfully make a statement such as, “I think, I just heard some deceptive words from you, is that what you intended?”  Oftentimes in early recovery, a person’s brain is still cued to follow old pathways. And kind reminders help a person “do the next right thing” for recovery.



For more articles by Carli Noffsinger, LMSW, CAADC, and family recovery click here. 




Caroline (Carli) Parmelee-Noffsinger has 20 years clinical experience including: primary therapist and case manager for residential, IOP and outpatient therapy. Carli’s primary role at Sanford House is facilitating the Family Program. She is currently updating and revising the program design and content and hopes to improve upon an already successful approach to family intervention. In her free time, Carli spends time with her horse. She has been a horse lover and owner for most of her life and has facilitated equine therapy sessions. She says, “The back of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” You can reach Carli with questions about The Sanford House Family Program at