While many of us think of addiction as a bold-faced disease in which the addict loses their job and their home, the truth is that it is often much more insidious. Data shows that there are over 23 million people with a substance use disorder in the United States, and only 11% of those ever get treatment. While many individuals are forced to face the reality of their addictions, many more are not, and continue to use, damaging their health, relationships, and financial situation. Because data shows that as little as 5-40% of addicts who get clean remain clean without professional treatment, it is important to get addicts to recognize their addiction, move towards acceptance, and get treatment.
However, many people maintain their addictions for long periods of time through a system of self-denial, in which they lie to themselves about their addiction, their continued addiction, or attempt to rationalize or excuse their behavior in some way. While it can be difficult, recognizing the signs of denial and moving into acceptance of an addiction is one of the first steps to getting treatment and recovering from the addiction.
- Anger – An addict who is in denial of their addiction might become angry or defensive when accused of overuse of a substance. This guilt and anger is often found in addicts who realize that they have a problem, but who try to deny that it is serious, or prefer to hide it. Anger is typically based around guilt and self-defense, and is usually used as a defense. Why? In many cases, the addict either sees addiction as shameful, and therefore the accusation as offensive, or the person sees the accusers belief that they (who are not addicted) are addicted is offensive. In either case, a person who is angry when asked about their substance use, addiction, or any facet of their addiction is likely in denial. Standing up to anger can be difficult, but in most cases, the best approach is to avoid accusation, discuss why it’s okay and why it’s not, and focus on being non-judgemental as you discuss options.
- Excuses – Excuses are almost always a sign of denial in an addict because they stem from the inability or the unwillingness of the addict to face their addiction and the possible shame, guilt, or other repercussions that may come with it. Here, you will most often hear statements like “If it weren’t for X I wouldn’t need these pills”, “I drink because I’m stressed”, “I have to keep using because I can’t afford downtime to withdraw” and so on. This type of denial is very hard to deal with because the person looks for an outside reason for their substance use and will not find an internal one until they cannot rely on excuses anymore. However, no one chooses to become addicted. Addictions are often created through small choices that build up on each other, often driven by stress, so that by the time the person realizes they are addicted, it’s too late. Approaching an addict with sympathy, compassion, and the rationalization that it is not their fault will help you to get through to them.
- Rationalizing Problems – Rationalizing problems because of an external factor, rationalizing them as logical or normal, or excusing them as a normal result of a situation is a sign of denial in addiction. For example, a person who says, “I will get clean when X happens”, “I won’t need Xanax once I get a new job”, is trying to rationalize their addiction as a normal result of their life. By finding ‘reasons’ for their addiction, substance abusers tell themselves that it is okay, they can continue, and there is no shame in not stopping.
- Blame – If someone is actively blaming someone else for their addiction, they are in denial about their own guilt. Blame is the active transference of the responsibility for the addiction to someone else. Statements like: “I drink because you nag me”, “I need this because my dad abused me”, “Why can’t you just be happy. This is why I keep using” are all signs of blame. This kind of denial usually stems from guilt and anger, and is difficult to combat without third-party intervention, because the person blaming will likely never listen to the person they are blaming.
- Avoidance – In some cases, addicts will simply avoid their addiction and the fact that they are addicted. This can result in avoiding issues, redirecting conversations, simply leaving a conversation they don’t like, and otherwise ignoring issues by not facing them. A very common example is that many substance abusers will use more when confronted with the concept of their addiction. “I can quit anytime I want to”, is something that addicts who are avoiding the reality of their addiction frequently say.
- Lying – Lying about substance use, staying clean, or where they’ve been are all very common signs of denial in addiction. In most cases, a person in denial will start lying out of a sense of guilt or shame, may hide bottles and pill-taking, and will typically use when alone or out of sight. This can develop into habitually hiding and lying about their substance use to the point where they can believe their own lies.
- Refusing Help – An addict who refuses help is most often in denial about their addiction or their ability to get clean on their own. Unfortunately, you cannot make someone who doesn’t want help to get help, simply because recovery relies on a great deal of personal motivation. However, you can help an addict to visit a rehabilitation clinic, where cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapy may help them to find the motivation they need to stay clean.
Accepting an addiction is usually the first step to recovering from it, because getting clean or sober means learning to control cravings, making it through physical withdrawal, and working to improve your life to reach personal and social goals. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, it’s important that you seek out help, get medical assistance, and go through treatment to learn how to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today for help. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. You don’t have to fight addiction alone, we can help.