Denial Feeds Substance Abuse

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 keeps addiction alive.

When it comes to the disease of addiction or a substance use disorder, denial is the major impediment that keeps an addiction active, even when the alcoholic/addict is desperate to stop.

A person suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction is unable to acknowledge or accept the reality of their situation, that inability can effectively disrupt any attempt at recovery. When you can’t/won’t admit your substance abuse problem, it’s virtually impossible to get help. Meanwhile, your progressive disease just gets worse.

Using Denial to Continue Drinking and Using Drugs

addict in denial about drug usePeople who misuse alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications often do so as a way of dealing with trauma or other painful realities. Over time, that misuse can progress to dependence and addiction, because of changes within the reward system of the brain.

At its most basic, addictive behavior is an attempt to change the way a person feels. Initially, people drink or use drugs to induce a positive feeling. Later they drink or use to make a bad feeling go away. Finally, they drink or use to numb out

Denial is also a coping mechanism. Addicts don’t want to admit the uncomfortable reality of their disease. Namely, their drug and alcohol consumption has gone beyond their control and is now making their life unmanageable.

Why refuse reality?


  • Preserves the addiction that makes you feel better.
  • Protects your self-esteem destroyed by addiction-fueled behaviors.
  • Helps you avoid confrontation with people who enable your addiction.
  • Shields you from consequences
  • Is easier than doing the work of recovery

Ways Denial Drives Addiction

There are many ways to be in denial. Some of the types of denial that drive addiction and substance abuse include:

  • Rationalization – this is when the person with the substance use disorder will make up excuses in order to give themselves permission to use or drink. Typical statements might include, “After everything I’ve been through, I need this.”, “I’ve been working so hard, I deserve to cut loose.”, or “It’s no big deal. It’s just this one time.”
  • Diversion also called Blaming. This is when the person with the substance use disorder attempts to avoid taking responsibility by trying to shift the focus onto someone else. Typical statements might include, “My drinking/drugging is all your fault because…”.
  • Minimization – this is when the person with the substance use disorder tries to downplay the seriousness of their problem. Typical statements might include, “At least I’m not doing… (some harder drug)”, “It’s no big deal, I still show up for work every day.”, or “I only do/drink what I can handle.”
  • Anger or Hostility – this is the tactic that the person with the substance use disorder tries to use to distance themselves from others so they do not have to deal with attempts to intervene. Typical statements might include “It’s my life and I live how I want to!”,” If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll leave!”, or “I hate how you’re always butting into my business!”.
  • Self-Delusion – this is when the person with the substance use disorder lies to themselves. The most frequent untruth that they tell themselves is “I can stop whenever I want to.”

Denial is a distortion of reality. As long as the person suffering can deny, deflect, or offer some sort of explanation – they can give themselves permission to continue using or drinking. It doesn’t matter if they have lost their job, their home, or even their families.

How to Overcome Denial and Start Recovery?

conflict between mother and daughter about substance abuseWhat is the antidote to the poison of denial? As with any addiction, awareness of the problem is the first step in the recovery process. In the case of denial, becoming self-aware is critical in changing a person’s mindset.

A person begins the process of recovery when they can identify the behaviors that are promoting their denial. When they know and can recognize that they are minimizing, deflecting, rationalizing, or pushing people away, they can take steps to eliminate those self-destructive and self-delusional behaviors.

When they embrace the truth – that their lives have become unmanageable due to addiction – they can take the other necessary steps to reach out and accept the help that is out there.

The opposite of denial of substance abuse problems is the truth – that help is needed, that self-respect is deserved, and that Lasting Recovery is possible.

Breaking Through Denial – How the Family Can Help

Most addicted people never come to the realization about the true, destructive nature of their disease completely on their own. Either the circumstances of their life become so terrible that they are ready to do anything to get better – the “rock bottom” of recovery – or they will need to be confronted with the truth by others.

This is best done with a life-saving intervention which involves:

  • Exposing the damage and dysfunction caused by the disease
  • Setting boundaries
  • Making the addict responsible for their own actions
  • Compelling the addict to accept help

While in treatment, the substance abuser works with master’s level clinicians with years of substance abuse treatment experience, to learn healthier behaviors, mindsets, and means of coping.

At Lasting Recovery, we know how important family involvement can be to the recovery process. That’s why we highly encourage attending our Family Education Group. Our Family Program includes education about addiction, how families are impacted by the disease, and what they can do to recover.

If you or someone you care about is in denial about substance abuse and needs help call Lasting Recovery today.

Lasting Recovery – “Where Wellness Begins…”

Help is waiting. Contact us now.


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