being in denial

Why Addicts are Often in Denial and What You Can Do About It

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Denial is a psychological defense mechanism used by individuals to cope with situations they find difficult to accept. It involves denying or rationalizing the problem at hand, even when there are negative consequences right in front of them. Denial often goes hand-in-hand with addiction, a chronic disorder characterized by compulsive drug-seeking. 

If you love someone with a drug or alcohol problem, and they deny it, there’s no doubt that you’re feeling frustrated and hopeless. How could they not see what was happening? What happens if you can’t get them to recognize the extent of their problem?

While there is no easy answer, it’s helpful to know why your loved one is in denial and some ways to deal with it. 

Denial – What it is and Why it Happens in Addiction 

Denial occurs when a person is unwilling to see the truth. It can manifest in different ways, such as outright rejecting evidence or minimizing the significance of an issue. Denial is especially relevant in the context of addiction, as it’s used by individuals to justify their drug or alcohol use. 

Addicts often deny they have a problem, rationalize their behavior as harmless or necessary, or minimize the negative consequences of their drug or alcohol use. In some cases, denial can prevent addicts from seeking help or entering treatment, which can cause their addiction to progress. 

To make matters even more complicated, addiction causes brain changes, which make it harder to see the true consequences of the problem. This can lead to a dangerous cycle of denial and drug abuse that is difficult to break without professional help. 

Recognizing Addiction Denial Patterns 

Denial is frustrating, to say the least, but it shows up in many different ways. Here are some addiction denial patterns to be aware of. 

  • Blame. With blame, the addict attributes their drug or alcohol use to other people or situations. For example, they might say, “If my job wasn’t so stressful, I wouldn’t have the need to drink.”
  • Minimize. It’s also common for addicts to downplay their substance use, especially if they are still functioning in the real world. 
  • Compare. Comparing is a tactic addicts use to deflect attention off themselves. They might point out other people who drink more or have been arrested, making it seem like they’re ‘not so bad.’
  • Rationalize. Rationalizing occurs when a person justifies their substance use, citing reasons like stress or having fun. 
  • Avoidance. If your loved one always changes the subject when you bring up their drinking or drug use, they are trying to avoid the topic. 

How to Help Someone Who is in Denial 

Helping someone struggling with addiction isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when they flat out refuse to accept reality. So what can you do? While each situation is unique, here are some general tips you can follow. 

  • Detach with love. Continue to love and support your loved one’s recovery, but not their destructive behaviors.
  • Stop enabling. Let your loved one see the effects of their substance use. Eventually, they will have no choice but to recognize the consequences of addiction. 
  • Don’t make excuses. Don’t believe the excuses your loved one tells you – and don’t make excuses for them, either. Just because life is stressful doesn’t mean drugs and alcohol are acceptable. 
  • Explore treatment options. Hopefully, your loved one will be ready to start treatment one day. Start looking at treatment options, so that you know what’s available, what insurance covers, and the admissions protocol. 

Awakenings Treatment Center works with people in all stages of recovery. Some are reluctant to change, but we’re able to break through! We have evidence-based and alternative therapies that support the mind, body and spirit. Contact our admissions department to learn more about getting your loved one help.