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Honest Recovery Is The Best Policy

Practicing honesty in recovery for drug and/or alcohol addiction takes a lot of courage.

Courage to admit there is a problem.

Courage to seek help from others.

And, finally, the courage to take the first step to turning your life around.

But a person’s relationship with honesty doesn’t end when he or she starts recovery. In fact, it’s just beginning.

From start to finish, telling the truth will play a pivotal role in the entire process, and without the truth as a guide, there is a lot of room to stray from the goals of achieving sobriety and overall health and wellness.

Many in recovery may know all of this, but making the commitment to keeping things straight by seeing yourself as you truly are is a commitment that will be challenging to keep. Yet doing so is worth it.


Dishonesty plays a big part of living a life with substance abuse and addiction. Many people lie out of habit and are used to twisting their words so they can protect themselves during the battle with the issues they face daily.

Users may rationalize that one or two lies here and there won’t hurt. But lies often lead to more lies, and soon, these untruths are pushing people deeper into their addiction, breaking up families, ending relationships, and leaving the person isolated and spiraling out of control.

Reasons people in recovery resort to deception are usually out of habit, but the reasons vary. Substance abusers change the truth to avoid conflict and responsibility or to manipulate others for their own purposes. People with addiction often lie just to get their way so they can keep abusing their drug of choice.

By lying, the person avoids:

  • Confrontations with friends and family who may be disappointed to learn of the person’s deception, thus damaging mended relationships
  • Guilt that blocks happiness and encourages substance abuse to continue in secret
  • Rejection from programs, such as 12 Steps, that may dismiss them if they are found to be dishonest during the process
  • Seeing themselves as they truly are. It can be hard to give up the idealized self and see the failings and shortcomings of being human with limitations

“Lies seem to serve the same purpose as the addictive substance itself—they provide an escape from difficulty and unpleasantness,” writes Rita Milios, a clinical psychotherapist and coach, on “Eventually lying becomes a habit, even another addictive process, because it comes to feel comfortable and safe while telling the truth becomes ever more risky and scary.”


Past research and various studies would likely say stretching the truth is human nature. One 2011 Canadian study of children ages 2 to 17 reports that 90 percent of children were capable of telling a lie at age 4.

A 2015 CareerBuilder survey found that 58 percent of more than 2,500 hiring managers have caught job candidates lying on their resumes. And in the online dating world, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found in a 2011 studythat at least 81 percent of people misrepresent their age, height, or weight in their profiles.

Nicole B. Ellison, an associate professor in the department of telecommunication, information studies and media at Michigan State University who interviewed online daters in New York City, told The New York Times that lying stemmed partly from the tension of wanting to be honest and the desire to put on one’s best face.

While it is true that lying is common across groups for any and every reason imaginable, being deceptive while in recovery is detrimental to people seeking to get clean and start a new life. Coming clean with yourself about your life of addiction promotes clarity and healing, which should be the paramount goals of a successful, honest recovery program. Without being honest with yourself and others, there is little hope that anything will change for the better.

There’s even research that supports how telling the truth leads to positive outcomes. One 2012 study found that telling fewer fibs could benefit people’s mental and physical health.

“When they went up in their lies, their health went down,” says lead study author Anita E. Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who presented her findings at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2012. “When their lies went down, their health improved.”

That meant fewer sore throats and headaches for the survey’s respondents.


According to the website AlcoholRehab, lying is a common relapse trigger that signals the person is returning to old, ineffective coping strategies for dealing with life. The inability to cope with life without substance dependence is a likely return to using, which is the road back to addiction.

Relapse, the return to using substances after a period of not using them, is a big step backward. However, it does not indicate failure, but it does mean treatment must be adjusted so the person can get back on the straight and narrow.

However, that can’t be achieved until he or she fully commits to being open while healing from drug addiction. Fortunately, there are therapies designed to give recovering clients the tools and support they need to help overcome their addiction and heal with honest recovery in mind. In a 12-step recovery program, one of these tools is called rigorous honesty.


There may be urges to be honest sometimes or make an attempt to be honest, but those actions fall short of “rigorous honesty” in a 12-step program.

“Rigorous honesty means telling the truth when it’s easier to lie and sharing thoughts and feelings even when there may be consequences,” writes David Sack, MD, for Psych Central. That means the person who is lying must catch and correct himself or herself in the lie and correct it while in the middle of it, even if he or she will feel embarrassed about being caught in a lie, according to Sack.

Honest recovery doesn’t stop at Step 1, which requires the person in recovery to admit they were powerless over their addiction and that their lives had become unmanageable. Honesty with others, including family, health care providers, therapists, and peers, is incorporated throughout the 12 steps, and the program makes honesty a daily part of life of a person overcoming substance addiction.

Sack also writes that rigorous honesty in recovery extends to verbal lies and nonverbal lies, such as cheating or stealing.

It also “requires authentic relationships that leave room for struggles and failures, setting boundaries, and living in accordance with one’s own values and principles,” he says.


Journaling. Taking the time to write down your innermost thoughts is what journaling is all about, and doing so can help you sort out your feelings about life as it unfolds. Journaling with the intention of practicing honesty in recovery may take some practice, so be patient and realize that there are no right or wrong answers. Start small, stick with it and remember to see the humor as well as the seriousness of situations you and others close to you encounter. Resolve to remain honest as you express your thoughts on paper. Documenting your life’s events will serve as an invaluable record that you can look back on and use to direct your next steps.

Check in and stay connected with others. No one is an island, they say, so have one or two people you can write, text, email, call, or send an instant message so that you can express how you feel and what you are going through. If you’re feeling depressed or lonely, it’s important to have a solid network of people you trust who can support you and offer a word of advice, a hug or an ear.

Join a 12-Step recovery program. As noted above, the foundation of these programs is honesty in recovery with yourself and others. Find a meeting group in your area that promotes honest recovery.


Pathway to Hope offers relapse prevention programs as well as long-term recovery care to our clients, who we always place first. If you feel you need guidance toward honesty in recovery, and that staying on the road to honesty is a bit rough, please call us today or contact us online. Our treatment specialists are available 24-7, ready to help you right now.


Elysia Richardson

Elysia L. Richardson is a writer and editor at Delphi Behavioral Health Group.

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