Anyone who has a close friend or relative that has struggled with a substance use disorder knows all too well about the manipulative ways of a person who is controlled by their addiction. These behaviors cause extreme heartache and pain and they even have the power to break up families and end marriages.
Amid a relationship that has been damaged by addiction, it’s not always easy to identify manipulative behaviors, let alone how to respond in a healthy way. However, if you can take a step back and peel back the filter from your eyes, you might just see that your loved one is manipulating you into fueling his or her addiction.
5 Main Reasons Why Addicts Manipulate
Why do addicts manipulate the people around them? As a friend, spouse, or sibling of an addict, it’s not always easy to understand why a person would continually manipulate the people who love him or her most. Despite the confusing behaviors, there are several very clear reasons why addicted people manipulate those around them.1
- They need to be in control. It’s not uncommon for addicted people to feel internally powerless because they are controlled by their need for drugs or alcohol. Instead, an addict will often attempt to control their environment and everyone else in it to compensate.
- Their intense cravings are justification for manipulative behaviors. Addiction is characterized by an uncontrollable physical and psychological need for drugs, making it hard for a person to resist using, despite the consequences. Addicted people may do anything to get their hands on their drug of choice and use their need as justification for all the lying and manipulating.
- They have a reduced capacity for objective thought and decisions. Drug and alcohol addiction changes the way the brain works, making it difficult for addicted people to think clearly and make wise decisions. Although many “high-functioning” addicts tend to hold things together just long enough to pull off a facade, eventually, the addiction rears its ugly head and things fall apart.
- Desperation takes over any sense of morality. People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs feel a strong physical and psychological need to use. It’s an overwhelming obsession that overtakes the person’s thoughts, actions, and desires until they are completely consumed by it, absolutely desperate for the next hit. In this state, nothing else matters, even the well-being and feelings of loved ones.
- Their guilt is paralyzing. Even when an addict realizes the damage they have caused, their guilt and shame may be too heavy to deal with. In many cases, addicts are ashamed to ask for help or feel like it’s too late for them. So, the manipulation, the lies, and the drug abuse just continue.
Examples of Manipulative Behaviors
A drug addict will use certain tactics to manipulate others to accomplish their own agenda. Typically, this involves making sure they are in a position of power, so they can use the other person or people for their own personal benefit.2
An addicted person may manipulate friends and family members in a variety of different ways. Here are a few examples of manipulative behaviors an addict might use to get what they want:
- They may go to one family member to ask for money or other favors. If the answer is no, they may go to a different family member to ask for the favor again.
- They may cause arguments between siblings or friends, only so they can serve as the mediator and pretend to be the peacemaker.
- They may demand that you do what they want and make threats to hurt or humiliate you if you don’t agree.
- They may isolate themselves from friends and loved ones to avoid conversations.
- They may throw angry fits, throw things, slam doors, and yell at you.
- They may buy you dinner, give you a ride to work, or do other nice things for you simply to make you believe that they’ve changed.
- They may threaten to harm or kill themselves to elicit a reaction from you.
- They may blame other people, life circumstances, or places for their behavior instead of owning up to it.
- They may refuse to admit they are responsible for their own actions and, instead, blame it on genetics.
- They may try to make you feel guilty by reminding you of your own failures and how they contributed to their addiction.
How to Recognize an Addict’s Manipulation
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to recognize when you’re being manipulated, especially when the source of the manipulation is someone you love and care about. One reliable way to determine if you’re being manipulated is to think about how you feel after interacting with the person. You can also learn to recognize some of the signs of manipulation so that you can make an effort to unroot them in your own life.3
Here are some common signs that you’re being manipulated:
- The addicted person frequently exaggerates situations and uses words like “always” or “never” to describe themselves or others.
- The addicted person preys on your fears (emotional, physical, and monetary) with his or her words and actions.
- The addicted person constantly reminds you of his or her importance, asserting the position of power in the relationship.
- The addicted person does not give you time to respond during discussions.
- The addicted person is only nice to you when he or she wants something in return.
- Your interaction with the addicted person often leaves you feeling used, bullied, ashamed and confused.
8 Tips to Cope with an Addict’s Manipulation
When you recognize that the addict in your life is manipulating you, it’s important to remember that you have every right to protect yourself from harm, physically, emotionally, and mentally. You are entitled to voice your own opinions and needs, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Although the person attempting to manipulate you will not like to hear these things, it’s essential that you start by setting boundaries.
You can still love your addicted friend or family member without sacrificing your own happiness or giving in to their manipulative ways. In fact, by standing up for yourself and refusing to be manipulated, you may even help them realize that they need to change and should seek help for their addiction.
Here are a few different ways you can immobilize the manipulation of an addict:
- Calmly say “no.”
- Clearly state your personal boundaries, such as, “I will not give you money.”
- Communicate honestly with the person when you believe they are being disrespectful and let them know right away.
- Remind yourself that you are not the problem and the addicted person needs to take responsibility for his or her own actions.
- Keep a healthy distance and avoid engaging with the person if you can.
- Prioritize self-care so you can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually well enough to face manipulative behaviors.
- Remember that the addicted person is responsible for his or her own happiness, not you.
- Join a support group like Al-Anon and learn from other people who have been or are currently in the same situation.
Although these tips may feel harsh and unloving, the “tough love” approach may be the best thing for your friend and family member in the end. After all, if they can no longer manipulate the people around them into supporting their drug habit or excessive drinking, it will be much more difficult to continue living in their addiction.
What Help is There for the Addict?
An addicted person may not always realize that they are manipulating you or understand why their behavior is unacceptable. This may be due to the physical and psychological effects of the drugs. However, in many instances, manipulative behavior is also a product of complex life experiences or trauma, resulting in an inability to communicate effectively, deal with stress, or establish healthy relationships.
For these reasons, many drug detox and rehab centers provide trauma-informed addiction treatment that addresses the social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of addiction. Although quitting “cold turkey” may help the person overcome their physical dependence on a drug, it won’t address any of the behavioral and cognitive problems associated with addiction.
Medical drug detox is often recommended for people with severe addictions,4 as it provides round-the-clock observation and medication-assisted treatment for the most comfortable and safe detox experience. Once the person has completed the withdrawal process, begins to heal physically, and has a clear mind, he or she may choose to continue addiction treatment at a rehab center, where therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR therapy can be used to chip away at the trauma and behavioral problems that have contributed to the addiction.
It is a research-based fact that developing new habits and modifying deep-seated behaviors like manipulation takes time and effort,5 but it is certainly not impossible. With the right treatment and support, your loved one can learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully, and in time, your relationship may heal.