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How Do I Deal with the Constant Lying?

Mom disgruntled son leaving with walkman

Allies member Fireweed3 wonders how she should be dealing with her daughter's pathological lying…

"How do parents cope with a child who consistently lies?

My 19 year old daughter seemingly cannot tell the truth much of the time. Recently I saw "pathological liar" in the search bar on her cell phone when she came over to show me a new album on Apple Music. Days later, she confided to me that as her substance use increased, she started lying more (and more) and now it has become reflexive. I understand, but I can't really accept it — or rather, I'm having a hard time tolerating it.

I find myself questioning everything she says which is not only detrimental to the relationship but also harmful to my sense of wellbeing. If I start asking questions for clarification (when things are missing, facts don't line up) she becomes irritable or angry, and things often spiral out from there. I want to break the cycle.

I looked for keyword "lying" under topics on this page. Was surprised not to find it. I need help navigating this issue. Thank you"

We haven’t thought to put lying on the tab bar. It would be like putting drinking along with alcoholism or smoking along with tobacco or pot.

People who have problems with substances lie. They have to, for they are hiding large sections of their life, whether it be the pragmatic parts of sneaking, minimizing, accessing the substance of choice, or the deeper part that evades emotional honesty with themselves.

Your daughter could also have an additional issue that makes her lie compulsively, but it’s going to be hard to tease this apart as her substance use increases.

Would she lie if she were not using? If she were pursuing healthy behaviors of recovery that build insight into self?

You are left wondering. What can you do as a parent at this very moment?

CRAFT suggests you focus singularly on the substance use to start. Let go of the other things your daughter is, or is not, doing. Some or all of this will shift when the substance problem is addressed. Yes, the lying will go away if she works on addiction. Being honest is a key characteristic of a healthy life. Peer supports emphasize this as does any therapeutic process.

If the lying continues beyond this, then you both know there is a mental health issue that will also need to be addressed.

Learning Module 3 asks you to hone in on the actions and patterns your daughter exhibits around the use. We want you to build a practiced eye, to become aware of the cycle. In this way, you can decide how you should behave (step in and reward her if there isn’t use; step away, allow natural consequences, and remove rewards, if there is use).

You’re not going to ask her whether she is high. You are going to assess the situation based on the evidence. This will reduce her need to lie to you, removing undue weight on the question " is she telling the truth or not?". You will instead base your behavior on what you are seeing.

Your daughter is probably lying about many things…where she is going, who with, etc. So be it. Don’t respond. You know she is lying. Your role is to line up your behavior with what you are seeing in her. Is she sober looking right now or not?

As a parent, you want her to explain what she is doing. In becoming a partner, an ally, of someone with an addiction issue, you want to leave them to themselves; let them feel more responsibility for their actions. You don’t need a full accounting—she’s not going to give it to you anyway. See if you can step away from this dynamic a little.

It is indeed very hard to be around someone who is being dishonest. Make it your goal to let it pass by when you hear it and respond instead to her demeanor: sober or not.

You describe a common pattern that occurs when you feel lied to, in which things escalate. Stop your end of it, walk away as best you can. I can see how walking away from her would be quite a surprise to her. No conflict, no mom to haggle with…

For now, let’s assume the lying is a byproduct of the substance use. As such, aim for treatment and recovery for your daughter, that bridge where there is less conflict. You’re going to have to take the first step. Thank you for raising this important topic.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Things were moving in the right direction. Then she met someone on the bus.

    In late summer, my 19 year old daughter approached me to seek help for addiction to marijuana. She completed intake. The diagnoses were unsettling — substance use disorder for marijuana and stimulants (cocaine), with some use of alcohol and opioids (Percocet). I spent the next week grappling to understand how she could be so high-functioning given her use. She had just graduated from high school with honors and academic awards, and looking forward to college with a scholarship.

    My (woefully inadequate) Kaiser insurance enrolled her in outpatient treatment that consisted of 1x/month individual therapy and 1x/week group therapy. Somewhere between intake and her first appointment with therapist, she met a guy on the bus who told her he was in recovery.

    Roughly one month later, she is head over heels in love with him. He doesn’t have housing, transportation or cell phone. He is about 10 years older, with a criminal history and an infant son he cannot see. I told her he could not visit my home/property, yet she began to sneak him into the converted detached garage (ADU) that was intended to be her “dorm space” during college. Seemingly overnight, it went from being a clean and quiet space to one filled with trash, dirty clothes/dishes, and drugs.

    After watching the two of them leave the ADU together one evening, I decided to lock the door to the ADU so he would no longer crash there without my permission. Now she is on the street with him. They are using meth, cocaine and weed — and who knows what else. I know because she accidentally left her Facebook page open when she borrowed my computer recently. The photographs show the two of them wandering the streets, riding public transportation, and using. (Her FB page is how I learned that he had been sleeping in the ADU without my knowledge. He would ask her to come over to shower, eat, have sex, etc.)

    Two nights ago, she came home to “get a few things.” She was headed over to the ADU when I calmly told her it was off limits due her boyfriend staying there, and the way it was maintained. She said I should have warned her, then tossed some things into a backpack. Before she left, I asked for a hug. We hugged, and then her brother joined for a 3-way embrace. Then she said something about things “getting intense” and left. Later I saw a photograph that he posted on FB — my daughter standing on a freeway overpass tugging a suitcase behind her. I know I did the right thing by locking the ADU (not providing housing for her because it was enabling her behavior) but I can’t bear to think of her on the streets. With no money. It has been raining steadily for days.

    I sat down to pay bills yesterday and noticed that she has been using my bank card for LYFT — something I asked her to do only in an emergency. She also used my card to book a hotel. I called my bank to cancel the card as I do not want to support this guy’s ability to get shelter as well. But in doing so, I fear that I have pushed her further into the street with him.

    I have sent her text messages, reminding her of my love for her, offering to take her to coffee/tea to talk, and my willingness to help her get care/treatment. I sent her information about a youth shelter. She used to reply to my texts, but no longer. Now I wonder if he has access to her phone. I observed on FB that he replies to messages directed to her so it’s plausible that he uses her phone as well. My texts may not be reaching her.

    I have read messages that he sent to her via FB. He seems abusive — demanding that she “show up” when requested, threatening to leave her if she doesn’t. His words in all caps: GET TO THE F-ING STORE and GET OUT OF THERE AND GET TO ME NOW! (In the latter case, she was at the emergency room with me, and he knew it.)

    Concerned that they may enter my home when I’m at work, or when my 14 year old son is home, I changed the home alarm code. The next time she tries to enter, she will not be able to shut the alarm off. Will that make her feel “kicked out” and unwanted? Or will it serve as a wake up call that I am unwilling to support her behavior while using?

    How far do I go? I know this guy is selling drugs, based on his FB posts. I believe he has a parole officer. Does he have a DV violation? Is that why he can’t see his son? Do I report him? Or will that shatter any chance of her trusting me again?

    I guess what I’m asking is this:
    At what point do I step in to prevent this guy from hurting my daughter? How do I intervene without driving her further away?
    Do I wait for some of these natural consequences to play out more?

    I’m scared to the bone. At times I cannot breathe. I am reaching out for help; I am trying to cope. But her rapid decline in one month has my head spinning. I do not know how she went from literally advocating for residential treatment through Kaiser to choosing to live on the streets with him.

    Please advise.

    1. I am so very sorry you are living in this nightmare of worry. I look forward to Dominique’s reply as she is always right on the mark for support and advice. In the meantime, hang in there.

    2. Hi Fireweed3,
      I can really hear the frustration and confusion about what to do in your daughter’s case. On the one hand your daughter was recognizing her struggles with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and reaching out for help. On the other hand, she has now met up with someone who is influencing her back down a difficult path. This mom really understands how you are feeling and how frustrating and confusing this can be. I am hoping that I can share with you some of the things that I found success with and maybe you can find something that will work for you.

      One thing I learned with my son is that when it came to a love interest, I had/have absolutely no control. If anything came down to a choice between me and the love interest, the love interest won every time. My only options were to accept this new person into my life (in some capacity) or drive my son away. That of course, does not mean I have to have them live with me or that this person would be at my house everyday but, I had to have radical acceptance, that in this moment in time, they were a part of my son’s life and therefore mine too. I have found that the more I try to discourage any relationship, the more I pushed my son away. He would tell me less and less, keeping me in the dark about his life. The more I backed off the more he trusted me. I learned to keep quiet about the love interest. So even when he was with someone I was not fond of, I chose to keep my son in my life and become a soft spot for him land when he needed to talk or work things through. This was where I could influence and encourage in a positive way. Honestly, for us, this approach worked well. He did engage in a couple of relationships that were really toxic but he also stumbled his way out of them and from what I can tell now, he learned (not as much as I would like and not as fast).

      You also have other children to think of with your son still being at home so keeping him safe is a major consideration. You expressed concern that this man your daughter is with may be hurting her. Do you mean he is hitting her or physically hurting her?

      Most of your questions on your blog post seem to involve setting down healthy boundaries. Boundaries were something I struggled with as well and it wasn’t until I did some major reflection on myself that I came to a better understanding of how they would work for me. I know there some great blogs on this website about boundaries you might want to read.Here are some of my discoveries:
      • I pay attention to what my motivation is behind the boundary. I find limits should be based on my needs and not, with the intention of changing another person’s behavior.
      • When setting a boundary, I need to make sure they are realistic. Maybe the boundary is too extreme like when I said things like, “You can never ever come back here,” or “you did not make it home on time, I am never going to let you take the car again.” These are really emotionally driven boundaries that can be really difficult for me to enforce.
      • I try not to create boundaries out of fear or to use them as form of punishment.
      • I have found that the best boundaries are those unspoken or the ones I create with the least amount of words.

      Your questions about the boyfriend and reporting him is really complicated. I know there is information about safety on the Allies in Recovery website but this seems to be much deeper than that. My heart goes out to you, as a mom, I can understand how difficult that can be.

      I know it may be hard to find any positives in your situation as things are spiraling out of control but the one thing to hold on to is that your daughter did reach out for help and recognized that she has a problem with substances. If she has done that once she can do it again especially with a family that so clearly love and support her.

      It already probably feels like an emotional roller coaster for you and that is why it is so important to take care of yourself. I know self-care is a monumental task right now but it is imperative to you, your daughter, your son and everyone else in your life, that you be at the best you can be. It is so important to be able to take advantage of those small windows of opportunity with our Loved Ones, we need to be in a good place mentally and physically. For me, it took a lot of hard work and time to find strategies to control and change those obsessive thoughts and runaway feelings. In fact, I still have to work really hard at it.

      I hope my sharing helps and I hope that you know that everyone on the Allies in Recovery knows where you are coming from and are here to support you. We moms and families have to stick together and for me, I find it comforting to know that there are people out there that know what I am going through. I hope that you feel that too. Remember, you are not alone.

      1. Thank you Dominique, Laurie and gptraveler for replying to my post. It was very helpful.

        I tried to reassure my daughter that I’m not telling her who to choose as partner/boyfriend — just that he is not allowed to be here at the house. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to tell her all the reasons she shouldn’t see him, but I knew that would add to her shame and drive her further away.

        Still, I worry about his criminal history which seems to include domestic violence, weapons and drug charges, and restraining orders. I also worry about his apparent directive that she only take drugs from him. On the surface, it may seem protective (only take drugs from me because I will ensure purity, etc.) but it really forces her to depend on him for the high and/or relief from withdrawal symptoms.

        He seems to leave her alone on the street a lot, while he’s out selling drugs or engaging in other criminal behavior. When I know they’re apart (based on private chats on FB), I try to let her know (via text) that I love her and am thinking about her. Occasionally she replies with a reciprocal “I love you too.” Last night, she randomly sent me two songs to listen to on Apple Music.

        But sadly, she does not share the pain she’s experiencing. On Thursday morning, I checked her FB page (still open on my laptop like some sort of divine intervention) and heard a recorded FB message she sent to boyfriend. It was around 3:30 a.m.. She was sobbing, it was hard for her to breathe. She said she was in an ambulance, she didn’t know how she got there. She cursed at him (F you), followed by “I love you.” I was listening to her voice as if she were next to me, yet I was unable to reach her, unable to help. Kaiser discharged her a few hours later.

        [Did she pass out on the sidewalk and get picked up by EMTs? What is happening to her out there on the streets?
        This seems very unsafe, not only for her health but also the significant risk of sex trafficking.]

        Family members implore me to go to the authorities to report the boyfriend, but I worry that it will backfire. I cannot lose my connection to her, I cannot break the trust. I’m not sure what to do about that piece. Is there a way to do it anonymously?

        I agree that I can’t do anything about the people she chooses to spend time with. But what if a partner is potentially unsafe? I don’t have hard evidence of abuse, but boyfriend’s brother suggested to her (in FB chat) that he (boyfriend) may get angry and beat her. Was he joking? Being sarcastic? Or is there truth to this statement? In another post, my daughter told boyfriend that she will “obey” him. This is NOT the women’s rights/feminist daughter that I know.

        It should be noted that my daughter’s father has not spoken to her for a few years. Not even when she tried to reach him during a visit to the ER with me a couple weeks ago. This provides some context for what’s happening now.

        Anyway, if anyone has experience with a daughter (especially one as young as 19) who is spending time with someone engaged in criminal behavior — and is potentially abusive — please reach out. How do I factor this in with the CRAFT model? Thank you.

        1. Your daughter is having a very hard time. She will want help, it just needs to be accessible at that very moment.

          Is there an inpatient rehab you know of in your area that would take her if she walked through their doors? Could you make this possible for her? It would likely need to be private to avoid a wait list. Provide her details in a text.

          Is she interested in seeing or hearing from her father? Could you make this happen? He would need to be coached with a treatment engagement script like we suggest in module 8. Again, the treatment door needs to be opened so that she can just walk in, if at all possible.

          In terms of the boyfriend, those who work in human trafficking may have some answers for you. This is a new initiative in Santa Fe, NM that works nationally. I heard the clinical director speak a few weeks ago. I can’t find his name. I’ll send it along early in the week when I can ask.

          Ask for the clinical director of this initiative: (505) 438-0010. Please let us know what you learn.

        2. Here is the name of the person I heard speak at the American Academy of Correctional Physicians in Las Vegas several weeks back. See if you can get him on the phone.

          Michael DeBernardi, PsyD
          Chief Executive Officer, The Life Link
          Human Trafficking, Trauma, and Addiction—
          (505) 438-0010.

        3. Thank you to Dominique and Laurie for counseling me not to engage in conflict with my 19 year old daughter regarding an unhealthy partner/relationship. She is in treatment now. Here is an update.

          I practiced CRAFT as best I could. I set boundaries by removing incentives/rewards during use, and found ways to reinforce (reduced) use when possible — a warm meal, trip to Starbucks, book of poems. I texted messages of unconditional love. I offered to “drop everything” to assist with access to treatment (when she was ready). I sent web links to shelters, and phone numbers to addiction providers. I avoided statements of shame. I disengaged when she was lashing out. And I steered clear of negative talk about her boyfriend.

          About 2 weeks ago, police arrested her boyfriend for theft. He’s in custody now, perhaps for as long as six months. Initially she fell apart — she didn’t know how to manage without him and his drugs. She also felt vulnerable due to the harm she caused others and the relational ties she severed.

          But soon she came to view his incarceration as an opportunity for both of them to get clean (and to live happily ever after…sigh). So in a twisted way, he was no longer a barrier to treatment — he was a stepping stone. I continued to roll with it, biting my tongue as she talked about her commitment to him. When she panicked that she couldn’t speak to him, I put money on a phone account so she could take calls from jail. This calmed her down significantly, and allowed her to be present with her own circumstances and wellbeing.

          When her withdrawal symptoms kicked in, I took her to a private treatment facility to tour the women’s residence. She sat on the living room couch with intense nausea and tremors, eyes closed, as the intake coordinator shared a similar path to addiction (even down to the boyfriend piece).

          That night, she reached out to the intake coordinator for comfort and support. Then in the throes of withdrawal, she agreed to visit the emergency department. As symptoms intensified, she became verbally abusive towards me. At one point, she stormed out of the ED on her way to get “one more shot” of heroin to ease the pain. I remained there, curled up on a chair, waiting and hoping. About 10 minutes later, she returned and eventually entered detox through my Kaiser insurance.

          When Kaiser released her from detox, she was still on their perpetual waiting list for a residential bed so she decided to reach out to the private clinic — Plan B. Thankfully, I had already made arrangements with the clinic re: financial aid, and I had talked to friends/family about contributing towards the cost.

          She’s there now; I visited her on Thanksgiving, a day after being admitted to the program. She seemed to be doing well, connecting with staff and residents. On my way out, she handed me a 2-page letter she wrote to her boyfriend. I agreed to mail it — I even addressed the envelope. (Bite tongue. Breathe.)

          All of this is to say, without guidance from Dominique and Laurie, my daughter might not be in treatment today. To be sure, if I had implored her to leave her boyfriend, or made judgmental and shaming statements about him (and their dysfunctional relationship), she might not have felt safe to come home when he was incarcerated. By staying neutral about him, I maintained a connection with her. It made all the difference in this case. Thank you again. So grateful.

          Long road ahead. For me and her. I know.

        4. Dear Fireweed3,
          Thank you so much for sharing this update and underlining the elements of CRAFT and the Allies in Recovery program that have been successful for you. We are with you, and rooting for your daughter.

        5. I spoke briefly to my daughter today. She is 8 days into residential treatment.

          She asked if I would add money to the inmate prepaid phone account so she can take calls from her boyfriend when her blackout period ends next week.

          As noted in posts above, I was adding small increments of money to the account before she entered treatment because it maintained my connection to her, gave her peace of mind so she could focus on her treatment, and motivated her because their plan is to reunite when he is released and they are both clean.

          However, the clinical staff at her treatment facility are expressing concern about her communicating by phone with him. The therapist believes she may be addicted to the relationship as much as she is to the drugs they used.

          As her Ally, I want to focus on her (not him) and retain the connection I have with her. But I also worry that she is not stable enough to start engaging with him. She told me today that she wants to come home. She also talks about leaving AMA (against medical advice) with her fellow residents and clinical staff. Her therapist told me today she is a flight risk.

          So, with CRAFT in mind, as well as her treatment goals, my question is: Do I allow her to take calls from her boyfriend while she’s in residential treatment?

          I see two arguments for and against:

          1) Talking to her boyfriend may calm her down so she can focus on her treatment and wellbeing. It may motivate her to get clean — she talks about reunification when he is released so they can build a sober life together. Finally, allowing her to talk to her boyfriend will help me to retain my connection with her.

          2) Talking to her boyfriend may keep her stuck in a mindset that hinders her ability to gain insight and new skills. It may make sober living seem boring in comparison. It may trigger a trauma response due to his abuse, and the negative things they experienced while living on the street.

          I suppose she could take his calls, but also work through issues with clinical staff. Although, they don’t seem to think it’s a good idea period. Still, the program is 3 months long. That seems unreasonable. Maybe there’s a compromise there. Maybe she can take calls if they are supervised by therapist or case manager. Or maybe she can take calls after 3 or 4 weeks of treatment. I don’t want her to take off. I want her to stick this out.

          Any advice? Thank you!

        6. You have thought through the pros and cons of agreeing to your daughter’s request to provide the phone card her boyfriend needs to call him in jail from treatment. It could help calm her down or it could pull her away from her focus on treatment.

          My first reaction is to follow what the treatment providers are saying. Wanting to leave treatment is common. If you don’t allow her home, she is more likely to stay in treatment when the only other choice is back to the streets without the boyfriend’s “protection.”

          The longer the treatment, the more likely its success. Three months is actually not that long, though I’m sure it sounds like an eternity to her. After three months, she will still need more care back in the community.

          Let the professionals guide you. If she really wants, she can find another way to get the money to refill his inmate card. He, too, can find some money. In the interim, let the treatment call the shots.

        7. You prepared for the moment your daughter had even a slight interest/need in doing something other than running with a guy in the streets doing drugs. The moment came and you responded beautifully. I am so grateful for your effort and for this success. Getting that treatment door open with only a moment’s notice is not easy. Again, you worked on it beforehand and the door was open for her and it made a huge difference. You must have a sore tongue. You remained connected throughout — really well done. Thank you for telling us.

          I did reach out to the human trafficking expert and he said he would write a post for us.