Manipulation – The Fourth Defense of Addiction

manipulation chess board

Manipulation is addiction’s way of setting deception in motion.


This is the fourth and final article in a series on understanding and dealing with the primary defenses of addictive disease. Please notice my choice of words, “the defenses of addictive disease”. Not, “the defenses of the person you love”. There is a difference between the person you love and the disease process in their brain!  The disease of addiction interferes with the brain function and results in significant cognitive and behavioral change.



To treat or operate with, or as if with, the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner… To control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.


So, now we look at “manipulation” as a defense of addiction. Manipulation has a negative connotation to many people, yet others use the word to describe a positive process. One thing all people agree on is that manipulation is an action done by human beings.


Active addiction and manipulation

In the case of a substance use disorder (SUD), manipulation is attempted to obtain the substance of choice. Manipulation is addiction’s way of setting deception in motion, such as, taking money out of a wallet or bank account to purchase drugs/alcohol. Or a loved one might start an argument, create chaos or crisis, blame others, or make excuses for their using behaviors  Manipulation is a frequently used tool to protect the need for the substance, while not escalating the emotional discomfort in the person with an SUD.


Manipulation requires at least 2 players to achieve it’s mission. Previously I said manipulation is “attempted”. That is because it can only occur when the players engage. But the action can be stopped before completion if the players refuse to engage. Manipulative defenses can be disarmed when players refuse to personalize the perceived attack.


Love the person, challenge the disease…

One of the most classic statements I ever read about manipulation came from Robin Barnett, in her book, Addict in the House.  She says, “Of all the tools addiction uses to protect itself, its favorite might be you.”


Loving a person with an SUD is just that – love the person, challenge the disease. Challenge the disease by not reacting to manipulation. The disease will use the closest people as targets. They are a means to an end. When you refuse to react, it helps the person you love, because you are not helping the disease to progress.


There’s no telling when, or how, an addict will hit bottom, but one thing is certain. Bottom is not going to be hit while lying on a freshly made bed of roses… It will happen while skating around thin ice.

Sandy Swenson


People are more likely to engage in treating their SUD, if they feel the consequences of their disease. When we are honest and direct with our true thoughts and feelings, towards someone we love with an SUD, and when we stop emotional reactiveness, that individual will have a chance to feel their pain………

….and then get in touch with their own desire to change!


manipulation checkers board

Manipulation takes at least 2 players!


Dealing with Manipulative Behavior

  1. Stop all arguing, threatening, begging, shaming or judging your loved one’s behavior.
  2. Be responsible to yourself, own your feelings and thoughts, and share them with your loved one.
  3. Implement your very best communication skills.
  4. Use “I” statements and connect your feelings to your loved one’s behaviors.
  5. Seek support for yourself and be ready to hold tight to your convictions. There will be resistance first.


Manipulation in Early Recovery

The same techniques apply in early recovery!  In early recovery, everyone, including yourself, is adjusting to new ways of behaving. Remember to use your supports to reinforce your convictions. There are bound to be missteps by you and your loved one. Do not give up hope. These behaviors are most likely to occur during times of excess stress. A person in early recovery is dealing with a healing brain and previously established pathways. The defenses may appear briefly, from time to time, in early recovery


In Summary

The defenses of addiction are exceptionally difficult to deal with in any situation. No self-respecting human being enjoys being on the receiving end.  All the defenses tie in together and can seem to overlap. Handling these behaviors appropriately, require the family to cease their own reactive behaviors and implement behavioral strategies that will challenge and disarm the power of addictive disease. To become effective with strategic behaviors, family members require education, support to change their own behaviors, and the development of good self-care methods and skills. It is also important that family members stop personalizing their loved one’s behaviors so they can separate the person from the brain disease.


Now would be a great time to review or re-read the three previous articles on the defenses of addiction.

Denial of Addiction – The First Stage of Acceptance

Justification of Addiction – The Second Stage of Change

Deception as a Defense in Addiction – Third Stage of Change


Look carefully at the recommended steps in the above articles, as well as the tips in dealing with manipulation. And check how you are doing in comparison to the recommended disarming techniques. The results of your comparison would be good information to share with your support system!


At Sanford, we believe that addiction is a family disease and we treat the family together with our clients. We welcome family members to our virtual family education series and to our ongoing family and friend support groups.



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