If an individual does not believe that substance abuse is a problem for them they will be unlikely to change their behavior. Even if the destruction caused by the addiction is obvious to everyone else, it may not be so obvious to the addict. This is because one of the symptoms of addiction is denial. The individual may have a host of explanations for why their life is in such a mess but denial means that they are unable to consider the real culprit. So long as the individual is unable to see beyond their denial they will not have the motivation to stay sober. If they do manage to quit it will only be to please other people and unlikely to last long.
Denial can be referred to as a refusal to admit the truth or reality. In psychology it refers to a type of defense mechanism where people subconsciously reject aspects of reality that they are not comfortable with. Those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs can have little insight into their own condition as a result of denial. Most people will experience at least some level of denial about things that make them uncomfortable, but the addict develops a more rigid type of denial that can be difficult to penetrate.
Denial as a Coping Mechanism
A defense mechanism is an unconscious psychological strategy that people use to help them cope with reality and protect their ego. The ability of the people to protect themselves in this way can be beneficial but sometimes a defense mechanism will prevent people from enjoying life. One of the most commonly used defense mechanisms is denial. Addicts who suffer from denial will refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem. When they do this they are not lying. Their denial can be so strong that they just can’t see that it is substance abuse that is their real problem.
The Benefits of Denial as a Coping Mechanism
Denial can be beneficial as a coping mechanism because it:
* Denial can give people a bit of time to adjust to a challenging life event.
* It can prevent people from making rash decisions.
* It can help to protect the ego from something that would cause a great deal of suffering.
Living in denial tends to always be a bad thing that leads to suffering. This is particularly true when people use denial as a means to continue abusing alcohol or drugs.
Justifications for Substance Abuse
The addict is a master at using denial to protect their substance abuse. They will be able to supply plenty of other justifications for why their life is mess such as:
* The real problem is other people judging them.
* Their family stresses them out so they need to unwind with alcohol and drugs.
* They have a job they hate and a boss who makes their life miserable.
* Life is so boring without alcohol or drugs.
* Their lack of employment opportunities it the real problem.
* People who do not do drink or do drugs are weird and uptight.
* The country is being ruined by the government and this is why their life is so miserable.
* The weather is to blame.
* The real problem is that they do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend.
The addict will be able to come up with plenty of justifications for their behavior. Their denial ensures that they will never consider the real source of their problems. It is only by seeing beyond their denial that that the individual gains insight into the reality of their situation.
Denial and Half-Truths
Addicts can be quite skilled at bracketing off parts of their reality to boost their denial. An alcoholic may be too ill to drink on a particular day, but later use this as evidence that they have control over their drinking. If they manage to go a whole week without alcohol they may use this to support the idea that they are not an alcoholic. They will ignore other aspects of their life that do not support their drinking or drugging. The addict will use these half-truths along with their denial as justification for continued substance abuse.
Denial and Hitting Rock Bottom
The usual way that addicts get beyond their denial is by hitting rock bottom. This means that things in their life get so bad that they are unable to ignore reality any longer. Hitting rock bottom provides a window of opportunity for the addict to seek help. If they fail to make the most of this insight they can easily slip back into denial.
Hitting rock bottom does not mean having to lose everything. Some addicts have a high rock bottom. It is like being a passenger on an elevator that is going down – it is up to each individual to decide where they want to get off. There is no advantage to riding the addiction all the way to the bottom because this can mean death. The sooner that the addict is able to see beyond their denial the better it will be for them.
How to Escape Denial
The thing that makes escaping addiction denial so difficult is that by definition the individual will not know that this is what they are doing. There are a number of approaches that can help people get beyond this denial including:
* An addiction therapist is trained to help substance abusers come to terms with their problems. They use different techniques to allow the client to gain insight into their situation.
* A drink journal can be extremely helpful for alcoholics in denial. They may not even realize how much they are drinking and how it is impacting their life.
* Even if the individual is convinced that they are not an addict it may still be beneficial for them to attend recovery fellowship meetings. They are likely to hear things at the meetings that will resonate with them.
* Talking to people who have already achieved sobriety can help an addict see beyond their denial. Ex-addicts will understand the mentality of an addict in denial and so will have a better understanding of what to say.
* If the addict is protected in any way from the consequences of their behavior it can keep them in denial. It is usually the negative consequences of addiction that brings the individual to rock bottom.
* Reading educational material about addiction and recovery can be highly beneficial at helping people see beyond denial.
Denial in Recovery
It is possible for people to escape addiction and still live in denial. If the individual does not overcome such handicaps it could mean that they develop dry drunk syndrome. Denial in recovery can include:
* The belief that once addiction is out of the picture their life will be perfect. They refuse to accept that giving up alcohol or drugs is only the start of their journey.
* The belief that if they stay sober long enough they will then be able to drink alcohol or use drugs sensibly.
* Terminal uniqueness means that the individual refuses to consider that what works for other people in recovery will work for them.
* Refusing to acknowledge or talk about cravings may mean that the individual slides towards relapse.
* Refusing to acknowledge that there are problems in their life.
* People in recovery can fall into other types of addiction such as workaholism and exercise addiction. They will use denial to ignore the destructiveness of their new obsession.