Substance Abuse Addiction: Can You Fake It?

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Can You Fake Drug or Alcohol Addiction?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?

Factitious Disorder

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.

Underlying Conditions

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.

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2 thoughts on “Substance Abuse Addiction: Can You Fake It?

  1. Jenny Post author

    My sister’s been faking an alcohol addiction for over 20 years now. Yes really. She accompanied a friend to an AA meting once and LOVED it. She couldn’t get enough of the attention and new friends and boys who liked her and her phone ringing all hours. Not to mention my parents fell for it hook line and sinker and started letting her get away with murder even though they had never once seen her drunk. The most drinking she’s ever done was maybe a wine cooler or two at parties. Hardly necessitates 20+ years of treatment. She also claims she’s done LSD, only at first she wasn’t aware of how it was taken and botched her story up. She’s since changed it accordingly. She also moved to another state so everyone who knows she’s a phony are long behind her.

    She started treating her family terribly but was the sweetest, most caring person to her AA friends. I was very vocal that she was lying, so she made me out to be a villain to get pity and so people wouldn’t believe me. She would even tell her friends I beat her. She didn’t say that to our parents because they’d know that wasn’t true. We had gotten along fine before and our parents were very loving so I don’t understand what need she was trying to fill. She’d tell these people that they could call any time of night and they did. She didn’t care that when they did this they woke the whole house up. Her friends came first. I would get upset with her and the caller about getting jarred awake at 2 a.m. on a school night and she would be like, “See what I have to live with?”

    I hoped it was a just a phase but she never outgrew it. It infuriates me that she took all this care and treatment that should’ve gone to someone who actually had a drinking problem. Not to mention gladly sacificed her relationship with her only sibling to appear legit. The only family member that still willfully deals with her is our mother. We are well into our 30’s now and she’s still playing this charade. She even married an AA member and he doesn’t know she made it all up. I wish someone would have told him before he married her although he probably wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, who would lie about that? Unfortunately I’m closely related to someone who does.

  2. Mike Post author

    I am a recovering opiate addict. I have been clean from my 10+ year addiction. I have been searching on the net for an online support group. While searching, I found more “fakers” telling their story, (lies) and offering help to addicts, than actual addicts telling their story and offering to help. It is very easy for me to spot them. Most have addiction stories that are too-good-to-be true. Most fakers claim to be oxycodone addicts, as this is one of the most abused drugs. Then you have people who may have used the drug a few times pretending to be experts on addiction. This really makes me mad! Their main motives are money, attention, popularity, to make friends under false pretext and if arrested for a crime, to receive a shorter prison/jail sentence. I wish these sick people would stop. I am still looking for a support group.

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