One of the biggest and most pervasive myths associated with Addiction is that “deception is the disease.” I’ve heard that statement in so many different contexts that I fear it has now become common knowledge. The thing is, however, is that deception implies conscious action and, by definition, compulsion is at the core of Addiction and is an unconscious process.
I get that people who know (and often love) someone with an addiction become frustrated with what appears to be a constant string of lies that create an atmosphere of mistrust and seeming deception. However, the cycle of compulsion and shame is at the heart of this atmosphere and not conscious acts of deception.
It’s like this: Jill needs heroin. Not wants – NEEDS. Her body begins a painful withdrawal process without it. Once the drug infuses her blood, Jill can then be “ok” and get through the day until the heroin wears off and she needs to get more. The process of getting more and ingesting the heroin is automatic: There is no conscious choice or thought once the compulsion takes over her body. Jill will proceed on her path towards heroin until her need for it is fulfilled. Whatever she says or does once she’s triggered is about heroin and nothing else. Once she’s taken her heroin, Jill then, after a time, resumes her “normal” thinking and then feels shame about her actions geared towards the heroin. She probably lied to someone to get the funds to pay for the drug, or maybe she stole something and sold it or maybe she even traded herself (in the biblical sense) to acquire her drug. Since ALL PEOPLE have a moral compass, not even a hardened heroin addict like Jill can shake her feelings of right and wrong and somewhere in her soul she can’t ignore the fact that her addiction causes her to do things she believes to be wrong. Shame emerges and then she then does other things compulsively (like lie) to hide her heroin use. Again, though, those actions born of shame and enacted through compulsion are automatic and NOT conscious.
It’s easy to argue this point as it does appear that the addicts in our lives seems to be master manipulators. However, “addiction logic” is not equivalent with regular logic and trying to decipher Addiction through a rational and logical lens is what leads to some (if not most) of the frustration. I find it better to relate with those who are addicted through their own lenses and through mine. Once I do, I often learn about them as people and not as “addicts” simply fiening for drugs.
Therefore, while there is a lot of deception associated with addiction, the disease is about compulsion, lack of control, and disregard for consequences of the addiction. Deception is a symptom NOT a core aspect of the disease.