How to Recognize and Deal with Denial

Denial is an integral part of the lives of people who suffer from the disease of addiction. After all, recognizing the damage that addiction has caused and continues to create in life would often make continuing to drink or use drugs unacceptable. Denial functions as a way to cope with the spiral of addiction. So the mind often plays tricks on itself to prove that everything “is OK” even when life may be falling apart for the person with the addiction disorder.

It’s a way that the brain continues to rationalize behavior, shields people in the throes of an addictive disorder from seeing the truth about their current lives.

What is Denial?

Denial can be as simple as lying to others when confronted with the symptoms of addiction. Sometimes a person with an addiction disorder is blind to the problem that they have with alcohol or drugs. For example, a person who has been arrested for drunk driving multiple times may assert that they were being picked on by the police, or had just a “few drinks” even if their blood alcohol limit is way over the legal limit. A person can use self-deception, rationalization, justification and excuse making to explain why the substance they’re using isn’t the problem. They may also simply lie to themselves and others. “I can quit any time I want” is one of these lies you may tell yourself, even if you have already tried to quit on your own, multiple times. A person with an addictive disorder may also use manipulation and outright deception to stay in denial of any problems caused by drug use.

The worst part of denial is that a lot of the time, the person in denial believes their falsehoods and excuses, and has a hard time admitting that they have a problem – or that something they think they “enjoy” so much IS the problem. It may seem that an addiction disorder has taken over their mind. In a way, it’s true. The brain copes with a problem it views as unsolvable by making the person believe there’s no problem at all. This is why the disease of addiction is so overpowering for those in its grip.

Denial can be disabling for those who suffer from addiction. It makes it hard to hear concern from others, and they are often more likely to trust our perceptions than others. Unfortunately, denial encompasses many aspects of our thinking when it comes to addiction. Denial can make us blind to the effects of substance abuse. Our beliefs about substance abuse can cause us to avoid seeking help. What worse is that when you’re genuinely in denial, you probably don’t believe that you’re in denial at all.

Denial in the Family

Addiction is a family disease. Realizing that somebody in a family is sick with a dangerous disease can take a toll on family and friends. For many people, the only way to cope with the pain and worry is to deny that there is a problem. With this denial, a person may feel that all is still “okay” in the world, even when a loved one is wreaking havoc on their own life or hurting others with their addictive behavior.

A person may cover for another person to keep them out of trouble, or even believe the lies that their loved one tells about their drug use, even when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. “Oh, he only drinks on the weekend” or “He only takes so many pills because he’s in pain” may be a few lies a loved one may believe.

Overcoming Denial 

Denial may seem complicated, and it can be. But breaking through denial is a part of the recovery process, and often a treatment counselor or 12 Step sponsor can help you with this process. There are usually visible, scary symptoms of addiction that are hard to put off as something other than a problem. If you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, there is help available.

Right now, what immediate consequences have you worrying about addiction? Do you have to get high every day to “feel normal”? Have you done things you never thought you would do, such as stealing or lying, to get more of your drug of choice? Have you dropped out of activities that you once loved, because they would interfere with your use of alcohol? When you feel like something has gone wrong, and you’re worried about your use of alcohol or drugs, that’s when your mind may kick into denial to assuage your fears.

Often, denial sticks around, even once you get clean. This is why 12 Step programs and treatment centers help newcomers take an inventory of the issues caused by their active addiction. Overdoses, lost work days, and money problems are often just a few of the problems that people encounter from addiction. In recovery, you’ll have an opportunity to take a look at your life, develop new patterns, and break through any denial you’ve been holding on to.

It Gets Better

Do you think that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol or drugs? Reach out for help from a treatment center or call a local 12 Step group. All of these are confidential ways to get the help you need.

There is life after using drugs, and there are a lot of great things to look forward to. Don’t let your addiction rule your thoughts or actions. Get help, and get hope! You’re worth it.


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