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Top Excuses Addicts Make to Avoid Getting Clean

by Keri Blakinger

Active addiction involves a lot of lying. It means lying to bosses, lying to friends, lying to family, and – most of all – lying to yourself. In order to keep an addiction going, there are certain lies you have to tell yourself, certain excuses you need to give to justify your behavior.

Every addiction can be a little different, but an awful lot of addicts fall back on the same set of excuses. Here’s a look at some of the top excuses addicts make to avoid getting clean.

1. I’m not that bad.

This is kind of the gold standard of excuses – it’s a phase of denial almost everyone seems to go through at some point. In part, that’s because initially it’s true. At first, you’re not that bad … until you are.

Nancy Carr, a writer who has been sober for more than a decade, said that she could relate.

“My biggest excuse I was telling myself was ‘I’m not that bad,’” she said, “but in the back of my head that small voice kept chanting to me, ‘This isn’t normal, you need help.’” Eventually, after a pair of drunk driving charges, Carr could no longer tell herself everything was okay.

“I still wasn’t ready to quit drinking, but I was urged – heavily – by my attorney to go to an AA meeting,” Carr said. “I went, scared to death to walk in the door, and I left that meeting and drank for the next week. I had my moment of clarity during that week and realized that everything bad that had ever happened to me in my life was because of drinking and drugging.”

2. As long as I have ___ I’m okay.

Some users have a particular measuring stick or benchmark to justify their use. For instance, “As long as I have my job, I’m okay.” Or, “As long as I can still take care of my kids, I’m okay”

For me, it was, “As long as I can stay in school, I’m okay.” I knew that I had a drug problem. I was shooting up heroin every day; clearly there was no denying my life had gone off the rails. But, as long as I managed to stay in school, I could tell myself that I was making it work, that I was living as a functional addict.

Recovering addict Gary Goldstein said he had a similar story.

“My top excuse was that I could control my drinking and drug use,” he said, “because I was not like everyone else, and had a job, apartment, nice clothes, and was able to pay all of my bills.”

Eventually, though, Goldstein lost all of that.

“When I quickly found myself alone and staying home all the time to watch old reruns of Gilligan’s Island … and [caring] less and less about eating and my personal hygiene, I finally realized that I was an alcoholic and addict who needed help,” he said.

3. It’s legal! That means it’s okay!

This excuse can be a real struggle for alcoholics and pill poppers. In both cases, the fact that the substance of choice is legal means that it’s considered much more socially acceptable, so it takes longer for friends and family to realize there’s a problem.

The thing is, deep down you know when your drinking or drugging is becoming a problem and something as external as legal status doesn’t make you any more or less addicted. It just helps forestall the consequences.

4. It doesn’t matter – I’m worthless anyway.

For many addicts, using is a slow path to suicide. While some tell themselves that addiction won’t kill them, others know that it very well could – and they just don’t care anymore.

Mortisha Williams, who is now in recovery, said, “My excuse was lack of hope. I had made such a pile of shit – left my family, broke my children’s hearts, burnt all my bridges. I had no hope of ever being able to make things right.”

Eventually, she did get clean and began to make things right, but in the depths of an addiction, all that seemed like a distant impossibility.

“Finding hope saved my life,” she said. “I cherish hope. I offer hope. My hopes turned into goals, some I checked off as accomplished goals.”

5. My kids/family/job/pets need me.

Another common excuse addicts give to avoid getting clean is that they have people (or animals) who depend on them. Going off to rehab or detox would mean leaving kids and families on their own to cope. For single parents, it might be difficult to figure out childcare during a rehab stay. For business owners, it may be hard to keep the business running during a long absence.

This was another excuse I used. I have a dog and, in 2010, when I started thinking more seriously about getting clean, I decided that I just wanted some time away to detox. I didn’t think that a trip to rehab seemed realistic, but I thought that maybe getting out of town and away from easy access to drugs for a few weeks might do the trick. However, the one sober friend who was willing take me was not willing to take my dog, too.

So, I decided to wait for a better option. I hoped something else would come along, another place to get clean.

And something else did come along – but it certainly wasn’t better.

A few months later, I got arrested.

In the end, I did get clean – but by waiting, I only ended up making that process harder.


The above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to excuses. There are tons more out there, but they all have one thing in common: There’s a grain of truth in them. The excuses we give ourselves in active addiction tend to be based on some small seed of truth because it is, in all honesty, really hard to get clean.

The thing is, it’s a lot better than the alternative.