“Denial is argued to be the most damaging and insidious symptom of addictive disease, perpetuating the addiction by causing the addict to blame everything for her problems except the actual culprit.”
~Helen Keane, What’s Wrong with Addiction?
Denial is the underlying mindset that keeps an addiction alive. If a person refuses to admit that a problem exists, there is no way for them to get help for that problem. And, because addiction is a progressive disease, the problem only grows worse.
Why a Substance Abuser Uses Denial to Continue Drinking and Using
People who abuse drugs and alcohol often do so to feel better about themselves or as a means of coping with trauma or other difficulties in their life. In that way, denial is analogous to addiction, because it can also be a means of coping, by denying a plainly-evident, yet uncomfortable, reality.
That uncomfortable reality is this – their consumption of drugs and alcohol has gone beyond their control and is now negatively impacting their life.
There are several reasons why an addict will refuse to face reality:
- Denial preserves their addiction
- Denial protects their self-esteem
- Denial helps them avoid confrontation
- Denial shields them from the natural consequences of their actions
- Denial is easier
The Different Types of Addiction-Driven Denial
Denial can be broken down into strategies that a substance abuser will employ to keep from having to deal with their addiction:
- Minimizing – Downplaying the seriousness of the situation by using such statements as “I don’t drink THAT much” or “So what if I like to smoke pot? At least I’m not doing heroin.”
- Rationalizing – Trying to justify their substance use— “I DESERVE to party after working so hard.”
- Blaming – Attempting to avoid responsibility by shifting the negative focus on to someone else – “It’s YOUR fault that I need to get high!”
- Anger – Pushing others away with hostility – “Don’t tell me how to live!”
- Self-deception – Convincing one’s self that the problem doesn’t exist – “I can quit any time I want.”
Over time, a substance abuser in active addiction will become an expert in employing these tactics.
For example, parents and spouses often are burdened with their own feelings of guilt and shame, thinking that they are somehow responsible for the addiction. This means that it is very easy for their addicted loved one to “guilt” them into acting against their better judgment.
Solutions That Can Help You Breakthrough Denial
The antidote to denial is AWARENESS and TRUTH. The addict/alcoholic must be made aware of how their disease is negatively affecting their life and the lives of everyone around them. Only when they realize this truth will they be ready to turn their life around
Most people locked within an addictive disorder will never come to this realization completely on their own. Either the circumstances of their life (deteriorating relationships, legal consequences, health problems) will become so terrible that they are unable to endure the progression of their disease any longer – the “rock bottom” talked about in recovery circles – or they will need to be confronted with the truth about their life from someone else.
One of the most effective ways that this takes place is through a staged intervention, where those closest to the substance abuser gather together to confront the person face-to-face and relay the damage that the disease is doing.
The goals of an intervention are to –
- Clearly expose how damaging and dysfunctional the person’s addicted behaviors have become
- Set boundaries that will put an end to any enabling, co-dependent behavior
- Expose the addict to the natural consequences of their behaviors
- Compel the substance abuser to seek treatment for their disorder
While in treatment, the addiction specialist will continue to work with the substance abuser so they can see the uncomfortable truth about their life, so they can be motivated enough to want change.