Denial plays a pivotal role in addiction and goes a long way toward explaining why addicts persist with alcohol or substance abuse despite the many consequences they may face.
Denial is often the first fundamental roadblock preventing the awareness and early acknowledgment that characterize the first stage of addiction recovery.
Before we explore some of the most commons signs of denial exhibited during addiction, we’ll kick off with a basic definition.
Denial: A Definition
In the broader sense, denial can be defined as a refusal to admit the truth and a tendency to distort reality.
When applied to a psychological setting, the state of denial is a defense mechanism whereby the person affected will reject any aspects of reality that don’t align with their worldview. This twisting of reality to suit takes place subconsciously.
While most people engage in some form of denial about things that make them feel uncomfortable, when someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, this denial takes on a rigid and militant form.
The key takeaway from this definition is that if someone dependent on drink or drugs claims they’re in no way addicted, they’re not necessarily lying. The truth of the matter is that their thoughts are grounded on an unconscious psychological strategy rather than a willful refusal to face facts.
Denial as a general defense mechanism is not without its benefits. This state allows someone facing challenging changes some valuable time to adjust. Denial can also work to prevent people from making rash decisions and it can safeguard the fragile ego against events that would cause undue suffering. Sadly, when someone dependent on alcohol or other substances lives in denial, it simply extends the suffering and blocks any meaningful attempt at recovery from getting off the ground.
Before we move on to examine the signs of denial during addiction, we’ll touch briefly on how to determine if you or someone you love is suffering from addiction in the first place.
Common Signs of Addiction
Signs of addiction vary substantially from person to person.
If you notice any of the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to think about whether use has turned into abuse or even addiction:
- Being unable to stop drinking or using drugs even if efforts are made to discontinue use. Sometimes, attempts to quit are carried out with no success.
- Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when alcohol or drugs are not present in the system. These symptoms can be both physical and psychological. From cravings and general moodiness to depression and anger, from depression and a simmering resentment to insomnia and excessive sweating, any outward withdrawal symptoms are a clear sign that addiction has already taken hold.
- A loss of interest in normal hobbies and day-to-day activities indicates that casual drug or alcohol abuse has descended into addiction. Whether this takes the form of old friends replaced to make way for drinking and drug buddies, or the avoidance of situations where no alcohol or drugs are present, radical changes in routine when someone is drinking or using drugs suggest addiction is a strong possibility.
- If someone you know refuses to quit drinking or using drugs despite serious health problems, chances are that they’re suffering from addiction.
- When you stumble across a stash of drugs or alcohol, that person is almost certainly well on their way to addiction.
- Noticing someone start to experience financial difficulties as a result of drinking or using drugs suggests their usage could be spiraling out of control. Whether you notice your family budget starting to suffer or you spot someone beginning to struggle to make rent, financial issues usually indicate the person is losing control over drinking or drug use.
- Whether you’re addicted to a substance and disguising this from others or you suspect a family member is being less than honest about their consumption when questioned, lying is a common sign that addiction has set in.
With an idea of what to look out for in terms of what signifies of addiction, where does denial enter the equation?
Well, for someone in the throes of addiction, even the abstract thought of committing to the sustained effort required to achieve ongoing sobriety is often too much to take on board. Even if the intention is there, when reality kicks in, denying the problem can always put it off for another day while allowing for another day of fun and games.
If you’re watching a loved one slowly destroy their life through excessive use of drink or drugs, it might be quite clear to you they have a problem. When that subconscious defense mechanism kicks in, they could see things rather differently.
When you’re the one struggling with addiction, accepting that you’re in denial is crucial if you have any serious intention of embracing a life of sobriety.
Whether in someone you love or in yourself, how can you spot the most common signs of denial?
Common Signs of Denial
- General manipulation tactics. This manipulation often takes the form of playing either the victim or the martyr.
- An accusatory attitude when confronted about drinking or drug use. It’s common for someone in denial to level accusations of judgment or condemnation at the person upbraiding them for excessive consumption.
- A complete and uncharacteristic disregard for the harm or damaging behavior caused to others is a standard sign of denial.
- Attaching blame to others for the damage that’s actually been caused by heavy drinking or drug abuse is commonplace and emblematic of denial.
- Justification of addictive behavior that normally comes in the form of, “I could stop any time I want, I just don’t want to. I’m completely in control.” Actions speak louder than words, though. When the person in question is demonstrably not in control, you’re likely looking at a manifestation of denial.
- Bracketing reality occurs when someone struggling with addiction might be too sick to drink or use drugs on a given day but then uses this as supportive evidence to demonstrate that they exercise a degree of control that’s in reality not in place.
- Point-blank and total denial a problem exists in the full face of evidence to the contrary is an unequivocal sign.
Do you recognize any of these signs present in yourself or someone you know? If so, what can you do to help them or to help yourself?
What To Say To Someone In Denial of Addiction
Having a conversation about a personal and highly sensitive issue like heavy drinking or drug use is far from straightforward.
You should never attempt to initiate this conversation when the person is drunk or high. While it might be tempting to confront them head-on as they return from the bar, you’re liable to provoke an angry response. At best you’ll get an uncontrolled response, and the emotion you’re even more likely to face is denial.
Once you find the time and place to start a dialogue about your concerns, don’t overthink this. Don’t agonize about the right thing to say. There is no right thing. The more you try to plan a conversation in advance, the less natural it will come across. What you need to express is how concerned you are and to do this lovingly and honestly.
While it might seem calculated and even mean, catching your loved one in the wake of an incident they regret can yield dividends. Perhaps they wake up and find they’ve lost their purse. Maybe they’ve shouted and screamed at you and, as always, they’re feeling familiar pangs of remorse. Capitalize on these emotions when the consequences of their drinking or drug use are fresh in their mind. Don’t be afraid to employ tactics like these. All that counts is the end result.
It can be beneficial to speak with your loved one along with a friend, ideally, someone who fully understands both addiction and recovery. This is not a smart move if your loved one is likely to feel like you’re ganging up on them. Make this mistake and you’ll face that familiar wall of denial. Only you know whether involving a third-party would soothe or inflame the situation.
Try to keep in mind at all times that your loved one is suffering from an addiction and is in denial of this fact. However bad their actions, they are not a bad person. Keep away from blaming or criticizing them. This might temporarily make you feel better but your friend or family member will feel guilty and is likely to lash out or dive deeper into denial.
Make sure you’re specific when you start talking rather than vaguely remonstrating about unacceptable behavior or hurting others. Instead, tell them bluntly, “I was so worried when you jumped in the car and drove to the bar when you’d already been drinking. I even wanted to call the police but that wouldn’t have helped anyone.”
Outline the adverse effects your loved one’s drinking or drug use is having on:
- Leisure activities
Try to highlight concisely the way drinking too much or using drugs is hurting the things the person cares about most. As you’re explaining, make sure to listen closely to how your loved one reacts.
What you are trying to achieve here is simply to plant the seed of recovery. It might take some time to germinate. Don’t expect resolution in a single sitting and don’t be remotely surprised if your loved one still won’t admit they have a problem. Denial is one of the symptoms of addiction so keep lines of communication open once you’re relayed your initial message.
So, having established you or your loved one are in denial, what concrete strategies can you employ to push past this obstacle and ensure recovery is a possibility?
Best Strategies for Dealing with Denial
The problem with escaping addiction denial is that, by definition, the person concerned doesn’t know what they’re doing since denial is a subconscious mechanism.
There are nevertheless some proven methods of dealing with this stumbling block to sobriety.
Not all of these methods will be well received and not all of them will work for everyone. Think about which strategies might be most appropriate for your loved one from the following:
- Starting a drink or drug journal: Sometimes, a person in denial might genuinely not realize just how much they’re drinking or the extent of their drug use. Encourage them to start and keep a frank, honest journal itemizing their intake. If they’re amenable to this idea, seeing the raw data written in their own hand might start driving the message home that they do, in fact, have a problem with addiction.
- Speaking with a therapist: Arranging an appointment with an addiction therapist is not something you should attempt without your loved one’s consent. Trying to force the issue generally results in more resistance. If they’re open to this, though, there are many ways in which a therapist can help push someone beyond those stifling walls of denial and on toward the road to recovery.
- Talking to people in recovery: If you’ve got friends or family who has managed to recover from any kind of addiction, a frank and open chat might help your loved one to accept things more readily from someone they perceive to be the same as them.
- Stop protecting them from the negative consequences of addiction: While it’s understandably tempting to insulate your loved one from as much of the backlash their addiction causes as you possibly can, this simply allows the vicious circle to keep rolling round and round. Stop providing them with money if you feel they’re using it for drink or drugs. Don’t call into work for them when they’re “sick.” Stop making excuses for them. By gradually removing this security blanket, they’ll be forced to confront the effects of their actions.
- Attending a recovery meeting: Even if your loved one is convinced they’re not addicted to drink or drugs and even if they don’t exhibit the faintest intention of getting sober, simply attending a single recovery meeting like NA or AA will directly expose them to a room filled with people going through similar turmoil. This can be instructive.
To reiterate, not all of these approaches will work with everyone and none are a guaranteed magic bullet. Introduce some of these ideas to your loved one without applying any pressure. Gauge their reaction and determine which, if any, are worth pursuing.
Helping Someone in Denial of Addiction to Recover
Even if someone is outwardly showing the signs of deep denial, it’s still quite possible they have been considering the idea of getting help.
What can you do to facilitate this?
Remember at all times the power of words. Use yours to express your love and concern while underscoring that you’ll help in any way you can when your loved one makes the choice to recover.
Provide contact details for therapists, recovery meetings and other medical professionals as appropriate without any kind of pressure attached.
If you’re uncertain about what to do next when your loved one continues to deny they have an addiction, call us at 375-325-8331.