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Gaslighting and Addiction

Posted on July 27, 2023

Gaslighting and Addiction

Gaslighting has been defined as a kind of psychological abuse that acts to make victims doubt themselves so consistently that they may begin to feel that they are losing their grip on reality.

It is very common for victims of gaslighting to feel as though they are ‘going crazy’ and to feel very overwhelmed, confused and generally disoriented as they are led to believe that their perception of reality is flawed or false.

Researchers have suggested that gaslighting is as much of a sociological phenomenon as a psychological one, as it works within already-established systems of power and relationships. [1]

Gaslighting is named after a play called Gas Light, which was written by Patrick Hamilton in 1938.

In the play, a character leads his wife into insanity by playing with lights, moving things in the house, and then refusing that he had done so himself.

The wife then starts to believe she must be forgetting or seeing things and starts to believe that she is losing her mind. [2]

Signs of Gaslighting

  • Consistently countering the views, thoughts, or memories of others
  • Adamantly denying that certain things have happened
  • Minimising the thoughts and feelings of others
  • Changing the subject in a way that undermines or queries others
  • Refusing to listen, or acting as though what others are saying does not make sense [3]

What Are the Effects of Gaslighting?

A woman with her eyes closed

If you are a victim of gaslighting, there is a chance that you may be experiencing a decline in your general mental health, a decrease in confidence and heightened self-consciousness.

This is because the effects of gaslighting can work in a way that causes you to question your perceptions of reality. This is why gaslighting is such a strong form of manipulation.

When your memories, thoughts, feelings, views, and perspectives are consistently undermined or denied, it is only natural that you may begin to experience difficult feelings.

Some of the common signs of gaslighting include:

  • you feel as though you are always ‘second guessing yourself, you may be experiencing self-doubt and may not trust your first thoughts and feelings
  • you may find yourself apologising to your partner very consistently
  • you may experience feelings of intense confusion
  • you may find it difficult to make decisions for yourself (either on a small or large scale)
  • you may find that you are not fully honest with friends or family about the details of your relationship
  • you may find yourself thinking that you are sensitive or ‘touchy’, and that you need to change this
  • you may lie on purpose, just to ensure that your partner’s perception of reality is privileged and you are not queried, questioned, or challenged
  • you may find yourself thinking that you are not worthy, or that you can’t get things right
  • you may find yourself defending your partner’s behaviour to family, friends, work colleagues and other acquaintances
  • you may doubt if you are good enough – both for your partner and for others (including yourself)
  • you may be feeling unhappy, low, or even depressed, and may not be able to establish the cause
  • you may feel that you have changed and that you are more anxious, reserved and stressed than you were before [4]

All of these effects can become very overwhelming and can easily culminate to develop (or worsen) mental health issues.

In some cases, the effects of gaslighting can lead to:

Who Can Experience Gaslighting?

Whilst Patrick Hamilton’s play shows a woman being gaslit by her husband, it is important to remember that gaslighting is not only something experienced by women.

Although some research suggests that gaslighting is a gendered construct, and is something that plays on pre-existing vulnerabilities, gaslighting is something that can be experienced by anyone.

Unfortunately, anyone can experience gaslighting, regardless of the:

  • age
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • race
  • disability
  • political ideation

Whilst this is true, there are some groups that may be more vulnerable to experiencing gaslighting.

Sociological studies have suggested that gaslighting plays on power dynamics that already exist in our society. [6]

This suggests that as a general rule, women, BAME (black and minority ethnic) groups and those with disabilities may be more likely to fall victim to manipulative behaviours than others. [7]

A lot of research has also focused on the role of gaslighting and manipulative behaviour in romantic or intimate relationships,

Gaslighting can also occur in lots of different relationship dynamics, including:

  • romantic relationships
  • platonic relationships (friendships)
  • parental relationships (parent and child)
  • sibling relationships (brothers and sisters)
  • professional relationships (colleagues, peers, and management)

Any relationship can be dysfunctional, which means that gaslighting can occur in any kind of relationship if manipulation tactics are employed.

Is Gaslighting Classed as Abuse?

Two women chatting and smiling on a bench

Gaslighting can be classed as a form of psychological abuse.

Specifically, it tends to be referred to as a type of emotional abuse.

Gaslighting is sometimes referred to as a form of a toxic relationship, as its negative effects show that it is a very damaging, even insidious form of abuse.

Why Do People Gaslight?

Couple on beach

Research has suggested there are usually two main reasons why people use the manipulative behaviours associated with gaslighting:

  1. Gaslighting gain power or control
  2. Gaslighting through habit or learned behaviour

Gaslighting to Gain Power or Control

Gaslighting as a way to monopolise the power dynamic in a relationship is usually an intentional choice.

In these cases, gaslighting and the use of psychological manipulation can sometimes be associated with the mental health of the individual perpetrating the emotional abuse.

Gaslighting has been linked to narcissistic personality disorder and more tentatively to antisocial personality disorder by some research. [8]

Gaslighting Through Habit or Learned Behaviour

Gaslighting as a learned behaviour is often more complicated.

In some cases, if people have experienced manipulative or dysfunctional relationships in the past, they may have learnt that these tactics are ‘normal.’ This is especially the case if gaslighting or forms of manipulation were present in their lives as a child.

The environment we grow up in, and the kind of care and relationships we are engaged with have a very formative impact on our personalities and how we relate to the world, ourselves, and others.

This means that some types of manipulation can become ingrained into our behaviours without us realising it. [9]

Not A Clear Distinction

It is not always easy to separate the two different forms of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a complicated phenomenon that can have many root causes.

For this reason, it is helpful to seek assistance if you believe you are experiencing gaslighting, or that you may have a tendency to use gaslighting tactics yourself.

Addiction and Gaslighting: How Are They Related?

Person sleeping

Gaslighting is constructed around ideas of denial, lying, and often trying to reconstruct reality by stretching the truth.

These kinds of behaviours can also be experienced when someone is experiencing addiction and is trying to take the focus away from their own situation by ‘redirecting’ the attention of their loved ones.

This can be harmful both for the individuals struggling with addiction themselves, as their lack of honesty may prevent them from accessing the support that they need, and begin to isolate them.

It is also harmful to the individuals around those struggling with addiction, as they may start to experience complicated feelings of helplessness, sadness, anger, and frustration as they try to help their loved ones who are constantly concealing their cycles of addiction.

Gaslighting can perpetuate the risks of substance abuse, and even reinforce addictive behaviour.

What Is Addiction?

An addiction is when an individual becomes dependent on something.

There are many different forms of addiction.

Generally, these addictions are categorised into three distinct types:

  1. behavioural addiction
  2. substance abuse (drug and/or alcohol dependency)
  3. psychological addictions [10]

Some examples of the more common kinds of addiction include:

Signs of Addiction

It is not always easy to identify an addiction.

This is because when we are struggling with something, and often feel intense emotions about it, it is usually our instinct to hide this from others.

However, there are several signs of addiction that you can look out for.

These include:

  • an unexplained decline in physical health
  • an unexplained decline in mental health
  • difficulty maintaining relationships
  • difficulty maintaining a social life and other leisure commitments
  • difficulty maintaining professional commitments
  • difficult maintaining academic commitments
  • difficulty maintaining the home environment
  • difficulty managing finances [11]

Effects of Addiction


Addiction is classed as a chronic disorder.

This means that by definition, it tends to have an impact on all aspects of life.

Physical Effects of Addiction

  • diseases of the heart and lungs
  • increased risk of stroke
  • increased risk of cancer
  • the strain on the veins
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased risk of infection such as tetanus, HIV/AIDS (for substances taken intravenously)
  • increased risk of Hepatitis B & C
  • risk of overdose
  • feeling tired
  • desensitization in the body
  • tremors
  • sexual dysfunction
  • unpleasant withdrawal symptoms

Psychological Effects of Addiction

  • exacerbation of depression
  • exacerbation of anxiety
  • exacerbation of symptoms of personality disorders
  • exacerbation of paranoia
  • estrangement from family and friends
  • the strain on relationships (increased risk of gaslighting and other manipulative behaviours)
  • in some cases, the development of drug-induced psychosis 

Finding Help for Gaslighting & Addiction

Therapy talk

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, there are many forms of support you can access.

As gaslighting and addictive behaviours have been linked, this suggests that focusing on recovering from substance abuse issues can also assist your interpersonal relationships and vice versa.

Some of the different forms of support you can access to help you deal with gaslighting and addiction include:

I Think I’m Experiencing Gaslighting: How Can I Get Help?

Woman sitting at a table

If you are a gaslighting victim and are searching for support, there are many different helplines and charities that are able to give you tailored advice.

If you are looking for general psychological support, there are several forms of treatment you can access to help you deal with the difficulties of emotional abuse.

Such treatments include:

Getting Help

People embracing

Gaslighting is a serious thing to experience.

If you are experiencing gaslighting, then you are experiencing abuse.

You do not deserve to experience manipulation and abusive behaviours.

It is understandable to be anxious about reaching out for help. Part of the cycle of abuse relies on the idea of betrayal trauma – the idea that victims feel that they cannot talk to others about their experiences in case they ‘tell’ on their abusers.

However, If you are experiencing any signs of abuse, then it is important that you reach out and speak to someone who can provide you with appropriate help, support, and mental health treatment. 

If you reach out, you can make the first step to breaking the cycle of mental abuse, and to work towards regaining control over your life.

What to Do Now

If you are concerned about gaslighting, Rehab Recovery can give you non-judgemental advice and support for yourself, a family member or a friend.

You can call us on 0800 088 66 86, or you can request a call back to speak to a member of the team.

If you would prefer not to speak over the phone for any reason, the Rehab Recovery chat lines are open 24/7 to provide you with support and to answer any questions you may have about accessing support for both the victims and those seeking help to stop from engaging in gaslighting behaviours.













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