Why do people go into denial about their addiction?
If you are living with or care about an alcoholic or addict, it is frustrating when you encounter denial. They deny they have a problem which to you is very clear that they have. Typically a drinker will either deny they have had a drink when you are absolutely certain that they have. Or they will tell you they have just had one or two when it is obvious they have had much more than that. A drug user may deny they have taken anything. Or they may deny the quantity or the nature of the drug they have taken.
Depending on your knowledge of these things, you may have some idea of what is going on. Or you may be completely in the dark as to what they are using and how much. It is sometimes not till you discover the evidence – the drug itself or the paraphernalia associated with it – that you will be more fully in the picture.
The forms of denial
Some of this behaviour and communication is out and out untruths / lies. The individual drinker or drug user is fully aware of what they have had to drink and the drugs they have used. They are denying it to you to get you off their case. Either to protect their addiction which they want to continue with, and / or because they do not want to reveal the full extent of their use / dependency as they know it will upset you. The denial in the form of lies will probably make you angry.
The other form of denial is when the individual truly does not see that what they are doing is a problem. They will tell you they are not addicted. That they can cut down or stop at any time. That they are not an addict. They may really believe this. Examples of this type of denial include:
- An alcoholic insisting that they just have one or two drinks a day when you know it is very different.
- An alcoholic or drug user insisting that they can stop at any time. Maybe they will for a short period but you know that they will not stay stopped – they will drink or use drugs again
- In therapy, an alcoholic or addict may deny how long they have had a problem. Insisting it has only been for the last month or so.
- They may deny that it is a problem. Saying that it does not affect anyone else. They still have their job, a happy marriage, love their children who are unaware etc .
Dealing with the situation
How can we deal with this denial? At the Haynes Clinic we check on the information given to us by the alcoholic and addict by obtaining information from the family and sometimes friends of the person in treatment. If this matches what we have been told, then we can go forward with treatment, confident that we have the full picture. If it does not, we have to challenge the individual with the truth from the people who care about them. They may immediately own the situation – or continue to deny it but usually during the course of their treatment they do come to acknowledge the truth. Some families even send in photographs and videos.
Sometimes the denial is broken by the individual listening to other people in the rehab clinic – hearing their stories and realising they are no different – their addiction is as bad.
Getting through the denial to get the alcoholic and addict to realise and admit the truth of their behaviour is an extremely important part of getting them well. It can be done though often requires a team effort from experienced counsellors working together with family and sometimes friends. At the Haynes Clinic we go that extra mile to break the denial that many alcoholics and addicts have.
Learn about other addiction causes and symptoms.