For most people, developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol marks a low point in their lives— one they’d rather hide. By its nature, addiction is very isolating. Secretive behavior is a classic sign of addiction and is a common way many people try to avoid the social fallout that may come with admitting a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, the individual’s attempts to hide their addiction don’t keep it from taking a serious toll on virtually every facet of their life, including their relationships. As the individual has to work harder to conceal their secret addiction, they typically have an increasingly difficult time maintaining normal relationships.
While it’s important not to jump to conclusions when a loved one is displaying secretive behaviors, these behaviors may be a red flag when combined with other signs of drug abuse. Talking to a mental health care professional can help you know how to get help for your loved one.
How Does Drug Abuse Affect Relationships?
Drug abuse can have a significant impact on relationships, eroding trust, fueling suspicion and making it difficult to maintain an emotional connection.
The Person Is Often Defensive
Someone who’s hiding a drug addiction may be quick to become defensive if they feel like they’re being confronted. This may make it difficult to have an open, honest conversation about secretive behaviors.
The Person May Lie About Things that Don’t Matter
Maintaining a network of lies to hide an addiction is hard work. Over time, lying may become a habit, and the individual may not even be aware of how many lies they casually tell. They may begin lying about things that don’t matter simply because they’re used to having to hide a habit.
The Person May Be Unreliable
When someone is trying to hide an addiction, it may be difficult to get them to commit to anything. Addictions can quickly take over a person’s life, and the person will go to great lengths to accommodate their drug or alcohol habits as often as necessary. For this reason, they may often cancel plans at the last minute or avoid making plans at all.
What Could Secretive Behavior Point to?
While secretive behavior is common with addiction, not all secretive behavior points to a problem. In some cases, such as in a work environment, many people prefer to maintain boundaries and avoid talking about personal matters. While this can come off as being secretive, especially to those who don’t have a problem with their work life and personal life overlapping, it’s much better to simply respect the individual’s boundaries.
It’s more troubling when someone’s personality begins to shift and where they were once emotionally open, now they’re guarded and defensive. In close relationships between friends, spouses, siblings or parents and children, secretive behavior that’s recently developed can be disconcerting and indicative of a new problem. Aside from an addiction, there are several possible explanations for this type of behavior.
Mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety are still stigmatized in some circles, making the illnesses isolating for those living with them. An individual may be embarrassed by symptoms associated with their illness, and they may use secrecy to try to cover them up. Unfortunately, the stress of this can result in heightened symptoms, leading to the need for more secrecy.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition in which social interactions are profoundly stressful and anxiety-inducing to the individual. While not everyone loves new social situations, some people are especially uncomfortable with them. Common symptoms include worrying about being harshly judged, feeling afraid of saying or doing something humiliating, or concern about offending someone. Due to these feelings, someone with social anxiety may avoid new social situations altogether.
Because we live in a highly social society, rejecting social opportunities isn’t always acceptable. As a result, the individual may display secretive behaviors and make up lies about why they can’t participate.
Home Life Issues
Domestic violence, food or housing insecurity, financial problems, sickness, and relationship conflicts are just a few home life issues that can result in secretive behaviors. These issues are typically multifaceted and don’t have simple solutions, and they can be embarrassing for some. Not everyone is interested in sharing the things causing them so much stress, resulting in secretive behaviors that may be an attempt to avoid difficult topics.
When it seems like someone else is being secretive, it’s important to not jump to conclusions. Depending on the individual’s relationship with that person, it may be appropriate for them to let the person know that they’re available for support.
How to Address Secretive Behaviors
Depending on an individual’s relationship with someone who’s showing increasingly secretive behaviors, it may be appropriate for them to take a few actions.
Don’t Assume the Worst
Before attempting to explore the reasons behind secretive behaviors, it’s important for the individual to ask themselves if they’re reading too much into behaviors. There’s a fine line between privacy and secrecy, someone who tends to be more open may feel suspicious when others aren’t the same way. Avoid becoming too suspicious or assuming the worst.
Be Open About the Impact of Secretive Behaviors
If you have a close relationship with a person who’s recently developed secretive behaviors, it may be helpful to let that person know how you feel the behavior is affecting the relationship. For example, if the person is reluctant to make plans or ends up canceling plans at the last minute, you may let them know you’re frustrated by the behavior.
Take a Solution-Oriented Approach
If someone is using secretive behaviors to hide something, whether it’s a secret addiction, a mental illness, or problems at home, they’re likely to become defensive or angry when someone brings it up. Instead of taking on a confrontational approach, take a solution-oriented approach. Avoid blaming the individual or trying to make them feel guilty, but focus on giving them the opportunity to share the reasons behind their behavior.
In some cases, seeking counseling may be a helpful way to manage secretive behaviors in a spouse or child. A mental health care professional can assist the individual in determining whether they need addiction treatment or professional help with a mental illness. Counseling also gives both people in the relationship the opportunity to openly discuss secretive behaviors and how they’ve impacted one person’s ability to trust the other.
Showing Support to Someone Displaying Secretive Behaviors
Regardless of your relationship with the individual, whether you’re a work colleague, a friend, or a member of the same household, the best thing you can do is show them support. The ultimate goal is to empower them to seek the help they need for overcoming addiction. By letting that person know you care about them, are available when they want to talk, and can help them connect with resources, you may help them find the support they need.