Justifying Unreasonable Behaviour
Humans do not usually like to consider themselves as bad people, just as nobody else does either. Even those who commit terrible acts are likely to have justifications for their behavior – sometimes these explanations may even appear reasonable. In most instances, the justification these destructive behaviours will appear weak to other people, but the individual may hang onto them as if they were life rafts.
Addicts are a perfect example of people who put a great deal of effort into justifying their unreasonable behaviours. They want other people to view them as rational because this is how they view themselves and receiving this “approval” from someone else lets them know that their behaviour is acceptable and without and form of negative label being attached to them such as being weak willed, ashamed, embarrassed, frustrated or even hate in some cases.
Addiction has long-term consequences. Just getting through today isn’t living. Your life is worth so much more than that. Recovery can help you get it back.
To say that something is justified means that it has been proven to be just, right, or valid. If a person can justify their behaviour it means that what they are doing is reasonable. If they are unable to justify their behaviour, it implies that they are doing something wrong.
Importance Of Justifying Behaviour
The ability to justify behavior is important for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:
- There may be legal reasons for why a person has to justify their actions. A good example of this is when people defend themselves using physical force. They are unable to justify the force they used in relation to the threat posed, they could end up in jail
- If a person is behaving in ways that are not reasonable, it may bring their sanity into question. Their failure to justify their actions could even lead to forced detention in a mental health facility
- Humans do not feel comfortable when they are unable to self justify their own behaviour – it leads to uncomfortable feelings of cognitive dissonance
- If the individual is unable to justify their behaviour to family and friends it is likely to cause these people to become concerned. These loved ones may even try to interfere with the individual’s actions – for example, they could arrange a family intervention over concerns about drug abuse
- The community of people who abuse alcohol or drugs need justifications to bond them together
- The individual may believe that the miserable life of the addict is all that they deserve. A common characteristic that many addicts share is low self esteem
Self Justification & Cognitive Dissonance
The reason for why people need to self justify their behaviour is because of the uncomfortable feelings created by cognitive dissonance. It occurs when the individual’s beliefs and behaviour come into conflict. So long as this conflict continues the individual will continue to experience an inner tension. They can resolve this cognitive dissonance by either:
- Altering their behaviour so that it fits in more closely with their thoughts
- Altering their thoughts so that they fit in more closely with their behaviour
- Adopting new ideas to explain away the cognitive dissonance
The substance abuser can use either one of these strategies to eliminate their cognitive dissonance. They may choose to:
- Stop the substance abuse and begin living a more healthy life that is more in accord with their ideas
- Dismiss any thoughts that seem to contradict their behaviour. The individual may begin to believe that concerns about substance abuse are grossly exaggerated
- The individual may adapt new ideas to justify their drug abuse. They may believe that while substance abuse may harm other people that they are a special case who won’t suffer the same consequences
The 20 Lies Addicts Tell Themselves
- “I don’t have an addiction.”
- “I can’t live without substance XYZ.”
- “I can stop anytime I want to.”
- “It’s not that much.”
- “I only use it occasionally.”
- “I’m not as bad as [insert name].”
- “I just like the feeling.”
- “It hasn’t changed me at all.”
- “I’m not hurting anyone.”
- “I can still do what I’ve always done.”
- “That DUI wasn’t my fault.”
- “I don’t drink in the morning, so I’m not an alcoholic.”
- “I only drink [wine/beer/whatever], so I can’t be an alcoholic.”
- “I’m still employed, so my drug use isn’t so bad.”
- “The kids don’t know what’s going on, so it’s okay.”
- “These are prescription medications, so it’s okay to take more of them.”
- “I only drink or use on the weekends, so I can’t be an addict.”
- “I’m under a lot of stress — it’s okay to kick back with this stuff and relax.”
- “Hey, my drinking or substance abuse doesn’t affect anyone else but me.”
- “I don’t care about the long-term consequences of this stuff. I just need to get through the day.”
Those Lies Explained In More Detail
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 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.
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 jail from a DUI. 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 substance. Drugs and alcohol change the chemistry of the brain itself, so addicts experience strong cravings for the substance they’re addicted to. These cravings fool addicts into believing they cannot live without the substance. 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 a substance. It’s no fun to feel sick, shaky and otherwise lousy as your body’s chemistry sends signals that it “needs” more of the substance. It’s important to know that if you feel like you can’t live without your substance of choice, it’s just your addiction’s way of keeping you enslaved to substance abuse. 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 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 or strength of 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 Pregablin or Co-codamol. 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 or drink 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 spiralling 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 of being drunk or high.”
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 else.”
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, it doesn’t effect me.”
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 realise 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 (driving under the influence) after a night of partying. A DUI isn’t their fault — the Police 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 realising your life is spiralling out of control. DUI’s can also be caused by drugs so don’t think that just because you don’t drink and drive that you won’t get a DUI from the drugs/medication you are taking or took.
12. “I don’t drink or use in the morning, so I’m not an addict.”
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 spiralled 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 or alcohol use isn’t so bad.”
Some substance abusers feel that just because they can still get up when the alarm clock goes off and make it to work on time, their drug 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 abuser, 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 abusers who abuse drugs or alcohol once they’re outside of work, but they can remain completely sober 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 and unreliability that goes along with living with a substance abuser. Drugs and alcohol change your behaviour at home, which in turn changes your relationship with your kids.
An addict puts their substance abuse before everything else in life: family, work, community, 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 abuse always impacts their children. It may not be noticeable right away, but your substance abuse does affect your children.
16. “These are prescription medications, so it’s okay to take more of them.”
Prescription medications are one of the most commonly abused medicines in the world. Approximately 15% of people taking them daily are addicted to prescription medicines. You can become addicted to prescription medicine just as you can to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Just because a doctor has written a prescription for you does not mean what you’re taking is safe.
You should always use prescription medicines exactly as directed. Signs of addiction include taking more than the prescribed dose or taking the prescription more frequently than recommended.
Some people think that because such medication comes from a doctor and a pharmacy, it is completely safe. All prescription medicines carry risk. Doctors and pharmacists are trained to prescribe and dispense them at the correct dose to avoid harm. Taking more exceeds the recommended amount and can cause complications, including addiction.
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 on the weekends. Time and day don’t matter. If you crave substances, use them to escape life and find you can’t quit on your own, those weekend indulgences have become an addiction.
18. “I’m under a lot of stress — it’s okay to kick back with this stuff and relax, I deserve it.”
There are many ways you can relax and let go of stress without drugs or alcohol. Lies alcoholics tell, along with lies drug addicts tell, include excusing their behavior with stress, a single event, a memorial or anniversary or anything to give themselves a reason for taking their substance.
If you find you can’t relax and unwind except with drugs and alcohol, you have more problems than simple stress. 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 begin.
Using drugs or alcohol as an excuse to unwind is a common lie addicts tell themselves. 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.”
Think about all the people you interact with daily. From the moment you awake 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 or acting strange, you’re affecting them. Substance abuse changes your personality and can make your behavior 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 affects them, too.
We each influence many people. Your drinking and substance abuse affects everyone around you, whether you recognise it or not. It’s a lie to think your behavior is only your business and that what you do in private doesn’t change your relationship with others. It’s all related.
20. “I don’t care about the long-term consequences of drug and alcohol use. I just need to get through the day & I’ll sort it tomorrow, I promise!”
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 favourite 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 drugging doesn’t immediately make you feel bad. If you overeat 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 abuse. Today, you may not feel too bad. But what damage have you done to your brain, your liver, your heart, or your lungs? What changes have happened in your family, and what bad feelings have you generated with your children or your spouse?
As time goes by, you will find ever worsening effects from your substance use, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hepatitis B & C
- Lung disease
- Mental disorders
- Circulatory Problems
- Clots and embolisms
- Negative effects against pregnancy
- Damage to unborn fetus
- How has my using affected my physical health?
- Have you ever had a blackout, hallucination, seizure, the shakes, or vomiting?
- Have you ever had an overdose?
- Have you been hurt (e.g., in an accident or fight) when drinking or using drugs?
- Has a doctor told you to stop drinking or using drugs?
- Have you been sick and had to stay home because you were using?
- Have you ever had a flashback? Have you ever injected drugs?
- Have you ever done anything illegal (e.g., theft, dealing, prostitution, pimping, breaking and entering, assault, impaired driving) while drinking or using drugs?
- Have you ever been charged with any alcohol or drug-related offences?
- What effect (e.g., custody, restitution, fines) did criminal charges have on your life?
- How much money do I spend each month or year on my drinking, drug, gambling or tobacco use?
- Have you spent money on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or gambling that you wish you had used for other things?
- Have you had to take care of court fees and fines?
- Have you ever lost a job and pay because of drinking, using drugs, tobacco, or gambling?
- Have you ever supplied your friends with drugs?
- Have you taken money or pawned items from home to buy drugs or gamble?
- Have you been in any accidents that made your insurance rates go up?
- Does your family trust you? Has this changed because of drinking, using drugs, using tobacco, or gambling?
- Are there fights in your family because of your substance use or gambling?
- Have you failed to keep promises and meet expectations because of your substance use or gambling?
- Does your family avoid you when you drink or use other drugs? Do you avoid them? Has there been any violence in your family because of your substance use or gambling?
- How has my using negatively impacted my relationships?
- Have your friends suggested that you cut down?
- Have your friends been embarrassed by your behaviour?
- Have you argued with friends about your substance use or gambling?
- Have you failed to keep promises?
- Do you trust your friends? Do they trust you?
- Have you lost friends because of your substance use or gambling?
Recreation & Leisure
- How has my using negatively impacted my hobbies or leisure activities?
- Do most of your leisure activities involve alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or gambling?
- How often do you do things that don’t involve alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or gambling?
- Have you lost interest in activities that you used to like to do?
School Or Work
- Have you been suspended or kicked out of school because of substance use or gambling?
- Have you lost a job because of substance use or gambling?
- Have your grades changed because of substance use or gambling?
- Do you miss school or work often?
- Have you gone to school or work drunk or high?
- Have your teachers or bosses talked to you about drinking, using drugs, tobacco, or gambling?
Emotional and Mental Health
- How has my using negatively impacted my emotional and mental health?
- Do you try to make it through the day?
- Have you ever felt guilty or embarrassed about drinking, using drugs, using tobacco, or gambling?
- Are you depressed about your life?
- Are you moody?
- Do you hide how much you’re using or gambling from family or friends?
- Do you feel like nothing has turned out right for you?
- Do you drink or use drugs just to feel normal?
- Have you ever tried to hurt yourself (e.g., slashing, burning, skin carving)?
- How has using negatively impacted my spirituality?
- How has my using impacted my sense of peace and my comfort in my own skin?
- Do you feel less supported and less connected to others?
- Do you feel like there is no purpose to your life?
Addiction has long-term consequences. Just getting through today isn’t living. Your life is worth so much more than that. Recovery can help you get it back.
If you want help, you can find contact information for your nearest drug and alcohol service, GP practices and other organisations, charities and groups that can help on our help and support page here.