Substance Abuse Addiction: Can You Fake It?
In the substance abuse treatment community, it is well established that most people who suffer from an alcohol or drug addiction go through a period of denial that they have a problem.
Far less frequent is the opposite scenario: Someone pretends to have a serious dependency on alcohol or drugs, but actually does not. However, it does happen. But what causes it?
You may have heard of Munchausen syndrome, a disorder in which a person will lie about having a disease or medical condition in order to get treatment. This is also known as Factitious Disorder.
According to a researcher at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Central Connecticut State University, it has been documented that patients have checked themselves in for drug and alcohol rehab when in fact they do not really have a drug or alcohol problem.
How It Can Be Done
A person can create a convincing case of drug or alcohol dependency with the following strategies:
- Made-up histories. Since medical records are fairly well-protected, you can tell friends, coworkers, and even family that you have a drug or alcohol problem, or had one in the past. Unless they have kept a close eye on you in the past, they may believe you.
- Faking symptoms. You can pretend to be afflicted by nausea, hallucinations, or other withdrawal symptoms.
- Self-harm. Since some drugs leave a mark (such as heroin), you might use household tools to mimic signs of drug abuse.
- Preventing healing. If you already have wounds, you might prevent them from healing by removing bandages or picking scabs.
- Tampering. Substance abuse treatment centers often ask for a urine sample to test for substances. Just as true addicts might switch their contaminated sample with a “clean” sample to avoid detection, if you have Factitious Disorder, you might contaminate your sample to get unnecessary treatment for substance abuse. Similarly, you might tamper with medical equipment or use aids to show a fever, higher blood pressure, or dilated pupils.
Someone who fakes a drug or alcohol addiction likely has a great underlying need for attention and care. Sometimes doctors or family discover that the patient really does not need treatment for the alleged addiction, and sometimes it remains a mystery for years.
What the patient does need is treatment for the deep need for attention and perhaps for pseudologia fantastica, or compulsive lying. A study conducted at the University of California demonstrated that habitual liars have more white matter than gray matter in their brain, making a case for a biological reason for faking a long-term, serious illness. But otherwise, another condition, such as a personality disorder, may be serious enough to propel one into pretending to be an addict.
You might ask yourself why someone would go through the trouble of faking a serious condition like drug or alcohol addiction. The answer is the same for why people fake a condition such as cancer or another terminal illness: They require attention. Fortunately, there is treatment to get to the root of this need for attention.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.