The Secrecy of Addiction

The Secrecy of AddictionSubstance abuse can evolve into patterns of secrets—both within the addict’s mind and between the addict and peers. Since addiction carries a high degree of sensitivity, addicts have a tendency to mask their level of substance abuse or act in denial of any problem. While not every truth needs to be exposed to everyone, hiding certain truths can come back in devastating episodes in the long run.

Secrets in addiction can be about what you use, how you use, how often you use, how you get your substances, and even who you’re hurting in the process. The following discussion explores why and how these secrets develop.

Battling the stigma

While recent research and conversations have made progress to educate, the remaining stigma around addiction can still contribute to someone wanting to keep their addiction a secret. Even though addiction is a disease, our society has more work to do to dissemble the criticism and judgment targeting addicts. When such a stigma still exists around this topic, people can feel prideful or shameful about their addiction and protective of their reputation, perpetuating the problem of not seeking help when it’s needed.

Keeping secrets from others

Hiding one’s substance abuse is a common tactic, though the behavior is usually uncovered with time. Perhaps an addict made promises to loved ones that their behavior would change, only to break those promises in secret. The reality is that secret substance abuse will eventually catch up and abruptly come to the light, further damaging the addict’s relationships.

Part of processing secrets is evaluating the outcomes of confession. If I tell someone I’m still using, will it only hurt our relationship more? Is it better to leave them in the dark? The outcomes may be painful, but with confession we see the benefits of transparency in relationships, reduction in guilt, and the safety of knowing one’s loved ones won’t find out through other channels of communication.

For example, think of the betrayal and anger of someone in your family finding out about your addiction through another peer or colleague. Wouldn’t the outcomes be much worse than if had you told them yourself? These are the situations to consider when deciding what and when to share about your substance abuse.

Keeping secrets from oneself

One of the most troubling aspects of denial in addiction is the dishonesty with oneself. We see this through the Alcoholics Anonymous-coined phrase, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Psychology Today describes secrets with oneself as swallowing a slow-acting poison: your insides gradually rot.

An addict can keep secrets within themselves, convinced that they are in control of the situation and could quit using at any time. Unfortunately, these secrets are lies meant to cover emotions of fear and insecurity.

Alcoholics Anonymous is an ideal forum and community to unpack one’s secrets and expose what has been masked. By sharing these secrets within a relatable, supportive community, addicts find comfort and solace in meeting people with similar struggles and empowerment to break free from damaging secrets.

One exercise to help uncover these secrets is to write down any information you have kept from your loved ones. This allows you to physically release that information and illuminate areas you have kept hidden.

Choosing to be honest

If you are struggling with addiction, consider the freedom you gain by being honest with yourself and your loved ones. The challenges of substance abuse cannot be addressed until they are acknowledged.

Do you know someone who seems to be hiding an addiction? Do they act in denial of any problem? If you suspect someone is struggling with addiction, consider what you can do as a peer to present yourself as a safe place. Learn more about denial and how it manifests in addiction.