Gaslighting and Alcoholism: Is Your Reality Being Shaped by Addiction?
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Gaslighting is an act of intentional manipulation. People with addiction may use gaslighting to get what they want from a relationship and continue using substances.
Addiction has the power to shape, distort and affect perceptions, perspectives and reality. This influence is true even when you are not the one abusing substances.
One way addiction can impact your reality is through gaslighting. The effects of gaslighting may be slight and subtle at first, but they can drastically affect your life over time. It’s important to know the warning signs and react appropriately to maintain control over your life.
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term that has risen in popularity in recent years. It describes a specific form of manipulation people use against others to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Intentionality is a key part of gaslighting — a gaslighter fully intends to create feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty. Their goal is to make you question yourself so you are more willing to believe them.
Gaslighting is manipulative, malicious, covert and intentional. For these reasons, experts view gaslighting as a form of emotional or mental abuse. The victim will not display physical signs of abuse, but the unwanted mental effects will be significant.
People who regularly forget information or are easily confused may seem like they’re gaslighting, but this doesn’t mean they’re actually doing so. The acts must be deliberate to qualify as gaslighting.
Gaslighting may be most common in romantic relationships, but it can occur anywhere. Other common places include:
- At home
- At work, between equals or between bosses and subordinates
- In school, between teachers and students
- Within sports teams
- Within the community
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Why Gaslighting and Alcoholism Go Hand in Hand
When alcohol begins to take over a person’s life, they may go to great lengths to continue their drinking. They realize that others might notice and try to stop their alcohol abuse, so they begin a plan of methodical manipulation to maintain their drinking.
In the beginning, the gaslighter may subtly hide their drinking by pouring beverages into other containers, mixing with other drinks or disposing of the empty bottles. They will make plenty of excuses for their actions, and others may become concerned over time. The addicted person will say that they are overreacting, misperceiving the situation and forgetting important details. A gaslighting victim will feel confused and doubt themselves, soon accepting the addicted person’s reality as being true.
People with alcohol use disorders may not be interested in hurting others. Instead, they are more interested in their ability to continue drinking without added resistance coming from friends, family and co-workers.
Gaslighting may be linked to additional mental health and addiction issues, including personality disorders and other substance use disorders.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Since people who engage in gaslighting work hard to keep their addictions secret, they will skillfully conceal their substance use. To discover whether someone is struggling with an alcohol addiction, it’s important to look for certain signs. These include:
- Spending more time getting, drinking and recovering from alcohol
- Making promises to quit drinking without success
- Having strong cravings to drink when going without alcohol
- Feeling uncomfortable or ill when they are not drinking
- Needing to drink more or more often to create the wanted effect
- Experiencing legal, social, occupational, mental health or physical health repercussions of their drinking
Just one or two of the above symptoms may be enough to qualify for an alcohol use disorder.
Signs of Gaslighting
The signs of gaslighting are not always obvious, especially to the victim. Common signs of gaslighting include:
- Being deceitful
- Acting kind, interested and concerned
- Being charming and sexually seductive
- Mood swings with periods of anger and rage
- Intimidation and threats
- Name-calling with insults like stupid, crazy, forgetful, ugly, fat and others
- Arguing about minor details
Related Topic: Am I an Alcoholic
How To Deal With Gaslighting and Alcoholism
With time, gaslighting can have a damaging impact on a person’s mental health. Negative effects of gaslighting include:
- Less satisfying relationships
- Lower self-esteem
- Less trust in self and others
- Confusion and uncertainty
- Feeling like one is “going crazy”
Due to the harm created by gaslighting, a person should act swiftly to identify and resolve the situation. The best ways to deal with gaslighting are:
- Acknowledge the action. By being aware of the gaslighting and noticing its impacts, you can start the healing process. Reflect on past and present periods of the relationship to track the progression of gaslighting and see how long it has transpired.
- Set boundaries. Let the gaslighter know that you can see what they are doing and will no longer stand for this behavior. Be firm and strong as you emphasize what you will and will not tolerate. Clearly state what will happen if they cross the line, and above all else, follow through on your established consequences to establish a position of power.
- Tell others. Part of being a gaslighting victim involves becoming isolated from loved ones. You are more vulnerable when you are disconnected, so seek out love and support from trusted allies. Let them know what is happening and what you need.
- Detach yourself. People must remove themselves from the influence of gaslighting, both mentally and physically. Becoming detached allows you to reduce the value you place on the other person’s statements and behaviors.
- Control what you can. Too often, people in dysfunctional relationships try to change the other person. They imagine the connection can be rehabilitated and returned to happier times. This reversal is possible, but it’s not always probable. You must be willing to end the relationship to protect your well-being as well as the other person’s health.
- Demand addiction treatment. Gaslighting behaviors linked to addiction are too serious and too damaging to leave untreated. Communicate the idea that they must participate in professional, reputable addiction and mental health treatment to maintain your relationship.
Finding Help for Alcohol Addiction
If the addicted person is willing to commit to professional treatment, you could suggest they attend The Recovery Village at Baptist Health. Our addiction specialists can quickly assess the person and coordinate the most helpful levels of care to match their needs. From detox and inpatient care to dual diagnosis treatment options and family programs, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health can help throughout each step of the treatment process. Contact us today to learn more about programs that can work well for your loved one.
What is an example of gaslighting?
Gaslighting is complex, and it’s usually an ongoing process that eventually makes
someone doubt their own perceptions of reality. So for example, a person may tell
their loved one that they’re worried about their alcohol use. The loved one may
turn around and say the person is overreacting, or resort to name-calling, anger or
Is gaslighting abuse?
Experts view gaslighting as a form of mental or emotional abuse
Do drug addicts gaslight?
People with addiction may be more likely to gaslight. Many times, their top priority
is to continue using substances, and they will do so by any means necessary.
What do you do when you are being gaslighted?
It can be helpful to call out the gaslighting directly, set boundaries and speak with
others about the gaslighting. In some cases, the best option is to end the
Do alcoholics gaslight more than others?
There is little research that looks at drug of choice versus likelihood of gaslighting
behaviors. However, as alcohol is a legal substance that is often less stigmatized
than other drugs, it may create more opportunities for gaslighting.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Step by Step Guide to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders.” October 2019. Accessed November 11, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” July 2014. Accessed November 11, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” January 2018. Accessed November 11, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction: DrugFacts.” January 17. 2019. Accessed November 11, 2020.