False Memories And Their Role In Addiction

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

For decades, if not centuries, addiction has generally been viewed as some type of moral failure or a general lack of personal discipline. In truth, addiction is a form of pain management. The problem is that while medical science can generally determine the cause of most types of physical pain or discomfort, that is not the only type of pain that humans endure. Psychological and emotional damage can create a pain that is every bit a real as a broken arm or a bullet wound, but there are few, if any, tests to discover that type of damage. This often leads people to believe their wounds simply aren’t real, when in fact they are. 

Memories are the internal record we keep of things that have happened to us. The tricky part about memories, however, is that they are not always an accurate representation of what actually happened. Two people can experience the exact same thing and yet later have a completely different memory of it. Memories are actually a compilation of not only events that occurred but also how we interpreted those events. When we misinterpret events it creates something psychologists often refer to as false memories. False memories are often one of the many root causes of drug abuse. Having a false memory doesn’t necessarily mean the event the individual is remembering didn’t happen, it simply means they may have misinterpreted the event as being something it wasn’t. 

Sometimes, creating false memories is a coping mechanism to deal with trauma. For instance, if a child was sexually abused, they may create a memory of always having a lovely time fishing with their father, while conveniently forgetting the part where their father abused them in the fishing cabin. Other false memory examples can include things an individual may have been told that never actually happened. They may “remember” them as memories because they have been told them so many times, but they don’t actually have a legitimate memory of something happening. For instance, if a child is told often that they are bad, they may have memories of themselves being bad, when in fact they never were. They may blow small instances up in their head to be much larger than they were to fit in with the narrative they were told about themselves. It was a narrative which they believed, which became a false memory. 

What causes false memories is generally some type of trauma. In some cases, false memories are the result of negative messages we were given about ourselves and in other cases creating false memories is an attempt to protect ourselves from painful truths. One way or the other, however, the only way to heal is to dig down deep to unearth these false memories and correct them with truth. This is one of the many aims and goals of most addiction treatments. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction in or around Pompano Beach, we can help. Give us a call today and let us help you get started on a path to freedom. 

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.