Why Honesty in Addiction Recovery is Critical

Humans are naturally dishonest. We tell white lies to: 

  • avoid harming others
  • because we selfishly want something
  • avoid other people
  • be kind to others

Addiction requires people in recovery to be rigorously honest. People with substance abuse disorder have taken the natural human trait of lying to an extreme. 

  • They believe their life to be normal.
  • They are dishonest to control and manipulate.
  • Getting addicts and alcoholics to be honest is a spiritual principle in the 12 Steps.


Honesty, a Fundamental Characteristic in Recovery

When the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published, the authors knew that for their suggestions to work, those following the 12-step program needed to be honest.

It sounds simple.

But getting an alcoholic or addict to voluntarily have complete honesty is difficult. Their addictive life has been full of manipulation and control. They orchestrate others. They control situations so they could get high, avoid looking internally or get out of trouble.

A counselor or psychologist who tries to help an alcoholic knows it’s impossible to help someone who is not honest. The book Alcoholics Anonymous even wrote about it in the 1930s.

“We have spent thousands of dollars for examinations. We know but few instances where we given these doctors a fair break. We have seldom told them the whole truth nor have we followed their advice. Unwilling to be honest with these sympathetic men, we were honest with no one else.”

Honesty is still a problem with the addict today just as it was then.

The founders of A.A. knew that honesty was key. So much so they wrote that to develop a manner of living that is free from addiction requires rigorous honesty.

What is Rigorous Honesty?

Rigorous honesty definition: Developing a strict accuracy about our character.

We all know what honesty means. Honesty is not telling a lie and being truthful.

However, it also means not concealing one’s real character. Honest people do not try to hide their true motives or reasons for their actions.

Rigorous means strict accuracy.

What Do Motives Have to Do With Sobriety?

A motive is “that which moves or induces a person to act a certain way.” Motives influence someone’s action.

Motives are the thing that helps someone choose decisions regarding a course of action. If your motives are focused on getting high, then it’s going to be difficult to act in a different way, especially if you are an addict.

Lying is Natural; Delusion Is Not

If you are human, you probably cannot NOT lie. Being honest about every aspect of life is impossible.

Dishonesty is part of being a human. Research shows that lying is a natural part of child development.

Research* also shows that people lie because they want to avoid harming others, because they selfishly want something, to avoid other people and to even be funny.

However, the alcoholic or addicted person has a different relationship with the truth and lying. The disease of addiction and substance abuse take dishonesty to delusion.

The Big Book states:

“Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.”

Not only do addicts and alcoholics act dishonestly to friends and family to avoid harm, but they are lying to themselves.

If a person without any substance use problems looks at an addict’s life, it is not normal. Take a chronic relapser. Their life is far from normal.

They avoid family members and are dishonest about what they have been doing. They might go to jail. They might go to detox several times a year after relapse after relapse.

They might miss their child’s or loved one’s birthday. They might break important promises to people who love them and count on them.

No matter how many times they relapse and cause pain to others or put themselves in peril, they believe their alcoholic and addicted life is the only normal one.


*Timothy R. Levine, Mohamed Vaqas Ali, Marleah Dean, Rasha A. Abdulla & Karina Garcia-Ruano (2016) Toward a Pan-cultural Typology of Deception Motives, Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 45:1, 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/17475759.2015.1137079



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