Denial acts as an obstacle to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. It does not allow a person to see the addiction problem for what it really is. Denial is self-deception. It is a protective mechanism that a person uses unconsciously every day in reaction to events, emotions or thoughts that he is not ready to deal with.
Although denial can be protective it can also work against a person’s wellbeing. It affects a person’s judgment and distorts the truth. Denial is what makes a person believe that he does not have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Addiction denial continues to grow even stronger as the addiction progresses.
Denial is Powerful and Pervasive
Most people who struggle with addiction have some degree of denial. Denial is powerful and hard to identify. To compound the problem, when a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol his memory is impaired. He might not remember the negative aspects of an event involving drugs or alcohol, remembering only pleasant facts. Not remembering negative consequences only helps to reinforce his belief that the use is not a problem.
Further, denial about the existence of an addiction problem can also be found among a person’s family and friends. Excuses for the person’s problematic use will be developed. Excuses include statements such as “It’s just a bad habit, not an addiction.” or “He’s still successful at work so it’s not a problem.” or “He’s much more fun to be around when he’s had a few beers.”
It is imperative that denial be identified if one is to recover from addiction. Some ways in which denial is strengthened include:
- Blaming something or someone else for one’s problems
- Generalizing that everyone has a crutch or drinks excessively sometimes
- Hiding the use and related activities; hiding self or “staying low” after a negative episode
- Looking for ways that one is different, unique or better than other people with addiction problems
- Lowering one’s values to accommodate the use
- Minimizing the problem; joking about the problem
- Passive-aggressive behaviors towards loved one when confronted about the use
- Putting one’s use in a positive light compared to someone else’s use
- Rationalizing that there is a good reason for the use
- Telling lies
Vigilance is Key for Long-Term Sobriety
Denial is so powerful and pervasive that even after years of sobriety, denial can begin to creep back into one’s perspective, ultimately leading to relapse. A person who is serious about his recovery will be on the lookout for signs of denial within him and will address the underlying issues immediately in order to protect his sobriety.