Addiction Denial: A Ticking Time Bomb
Unhealthy denial is usually built over time.
It’s a wall your mind builds around you – brick by brick, every time you lie to cover up your actions or turn a blind eye to a problem. Eventually, the wall of denial shields not only from seeing the reality of your situation but also from recognizing the consequences of your own actions.
Honesty is not straightforward for everyone – and it’s especially difficult for someone dealing with an addiction. One of the hardest things for someone to do is ask for help or realize they need help. Honesty is something we can find very difficult when in active addiction. You develop strategies that justify and rationalize what you’re doing, being dishonest with colleagues and family, lying about the amount you’re drinking or using, or you may start telling people you’re doing really well when in fact, you’re not.
Eventually, you may come to your breaking point, and essentially this is where you only have two choices: lose a lot more than you’re gaining from it or fight for your life.
How We Justify Our Addiction
When you rationalize, you’re trying to find a good enough excuse to justify your substance use.
- I can stop whenever I want, I just don’t want to. I’m in control!
- My drug use is not affecting anyone but me.
- I’ve never been arrested.
- I only use it to help me sleep.
- I’ve never used hard drugs.
It is impossible to define addiction based on what has happened to a person. There are many self-proclaimed alcoholics who have never had a DUI, while many DUIs have been issued to non-alcoholics. Using external circumstances as a yardstick for your denial is yet another clever tactic to prop yourself up on the crutch of denial.
There are a number of reasons why it can be challenging to step out of denial:
- You don’t think you have a problem.
- You blame someone else for your situation.
- You believe that ignoring a problem can make it go away.
- You’re enabled by those around you.
- You don’t want to feel vulnerable or out of control.
- You fear the blame.
- You’re avoiding the work. You don’t realize that being in denial is even more difficult.
- You don’t know how to do the work to get yourself out of denial.
You may look for ways to ensure that you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’ve got a problem. Who does? Who wants to admit they’ve got an issue they can’t deal with themselves? It can be a lot of pain and consequences before you’re willing to do that. That’s the process of accepting that you may be dealing with addiction. You will and can go through a lot of discomforts as you lie emotionally and psychologically to yourself and others. Still, the pain of that – as human beings – becomes very difficult to carry. The only way you can carry on during that is to continue using your substance of choice. But the substance, in effect, is causing those consequences, so you get caught in a loop where you continue to spiral down.
Your denial patterns or mechanisms become more reinforced when you continue rationalizing and justifying. Because of this, you learn to live in a certain way, allowing your addiction to continue. It can be difficult to recognize those patterns initially and, secondly, to do something about them. Becoming aware of your denial can be incredibly powerful because you can begin to get the help you deserve. But to do something about it – that’s where the hard work starts.
Once you commit to recovery, you can start analyzing those behavior patterns. You begin to become aware that those behavior patterns have been enabling you. And although they seemed useful while you were in the clutches of your addiction, you realize they’re no longer helpful and actually cause you much more harm.
With denial, friends, and family can all do their best to approach the situation, but you may refuse to listen. Instead, you may get angry and say things like:
- Why are you always bringing this up?
- It’s not my fault.
- Everybody else drinks and uses it; why can’t it?
- I’m not doing anything wrong.
You start using many statements like this to justify and deny your situation and reject the consequences to yourself. Becoming honest is about recognizing your difficulties and asking for help – which can be quite challenging without the proper guidance.
Denial opposes, refutes, challenges, and distorts reality. Usually, this state of mind is based on fear, which delays facing reality. Denial, for instance, can lead you to distort the reality of drug and alcohol misuse rather than admitting it. Denial can be displayed in multiple ways. Look at some of the most common denial methods and ask yourself if you remember utilizing them if you’re in active use:
- Minimizing or making light of your situation. Your addiction seems less significant when you pretend that it is being exaggerated. You may say things like, “it’s not that bad,” or “other people drink/use drugs a lot more than I do.”
- Self-deception. There are many signs of self-deception, but one common sign is constantly convincing yourself that you aren’t using as much as you could or that your addiction isn’t that bad.
- Comparing. You can always point to a “worse case” than you. “I smoke pot and drink every night, but John does it at work and uses pills too.”
- Blaming. You attribute your alcohol or drug use to other people or situations. “If my job wasn’t so hard, I wouldn’t need to unwind all the time with alcohol,” or “If my partner wasn’t so demanding, I wouldn’t need to use drugs.”
In spite of the fact that denial is a normal stress reaction, denying reality can be a very powerful and dangerous habit. By minimizing, rationalizing, or convincing yourself that you are fine when you are not, you avoid dealing with reality. The act of denial encourages you to continue engaging in addictive behavior rather than seeking help. A pattern of behavior like that can lead to strained relationships, financial difficulties, legal troubles, and several health issues related to substance abuse.
How To Overcome Denial
One of the things you have to be able to do to get well is to allow yourself to become vulnerable. Within society and broader culture, people seem to think that being vulnerable is seen as a weakness. Despite this, allowing yourself to become vulnerable takes courage. Real courage. The type that most people really struggle with. People resonate with vulnerability, which opens many doors for you when trying to recover.
Denial can be difficult to overcome, but it can be done. It may be difficult to acknowledge the truth and get help when you are dealing with guilt and shame, but you can get support from friends and family and develop your own courage. Denial isn’t a one-time event, but a long-term process that often involves mindfulness, self-awareness, and counseling. To help you get started, here are some practical tips.
- Keep a journal of your truths about substance use. Overcoming denial begins with self-awareness. Many people are unaware of how much or how often they consume drugs or alcohol. As you come to terms with that reality, this journal can be a helpful tool. Don’t worry about making the entries complicated or lengthy – focus on writing down the dates, times, amount, and substance you consume. Keeping track of how often you use drugs or drink alcohol can help you realize if you are consuming too many addictive substances.
- Consider your reasons for refusing to accept reality. Denial happens for a reason. A variety of factors can cause denial, including shame, guilt, rejection, disappointment, criticism, and judgment. Identifying your reasons for denial can help you overcome them. Additionally, you can let your family and friends know that accepting the truth scares, frightens, or worries you. Please let them know how you feel. If you acknowledge this, it will be easier for them to empathize and support you as you seek professional assistance.
- Get professional help. The process of talking to a therapist may seem unnerving at first, but it’s a non-judgmental way to deal with challenging situations. You can open up to a therapist, realize the reasons for your denial, and accept the truth with their help.
In order to gain a better understanding of the role alcohol and drugs play in your life, you need to reflect on your feelings, fears, and recent challenges. Then, consider what could happen if you continue to use alcohol and other drugs similarly. What could improve if you changed how you use alcohol and drugs? Are you using them to deal with something else that is going on?
Not only can therapists, support groups, and addiction centers and programs help you create healthier habits and address addiction, but they can also help you deal with the underlying issues — such as past trauma, anxiety, stress, or mental health conditions — that can lead you to abuse alcohol or drugs in the first place.
Stepping Out of Denial and into Recovery
Denial is not just a symptom of addiction; it is also a symptom of nearly every other disorder or behavior that may negatively affect your life. Even when issues or behaviors are significant, denial always remains present, distracting you from other aspects of life and preventing you from living to the fullest. Denial is at the heart of anything negative happening to you.
Here are a couple of reasons why accepting your denial is beneficial:
- You’ll finally get the treatment you need. Addiction recovery can’t even begin until you admit you have a problem. Recognize that your substance use has a wide range of consequences, including ruined relationships, legal trouble, neglected responsibilities, and a decline in health. Recognize how drugs or alcohol have become your life, trapping you in a miserable cycle that only gets worse with time. You can’t keep going at this pace.
- You’ll be able to begin healing relationships. In addition to being a significant obstacle in addiction recovery, denial is also a substantial problem in relationships. By using substances, you begin to possibly lash out, isolate, or push away your loved ones – which is really painful for them. Getting over denial will allow you to acknowledge their pain and heal your connection with them. It will also help them to feel safe enough to honestly face the negative part they may have played in your relationship. By overcoming addiction denial, you can be more present for your family and friends, resulting in a closer relationship.
- You’ll slowly detach yourself from shame. When you deny your addiction, you are essentially living a lie that takes up much of your energy and well-being. Furthermore, it reinforces the stigma of substance abuse and the mistaken belief that it is a moral failing or weakness, instead of a chronic illness. As a result of your addiction, you may feel shame for what you have done, such as not fulfilling your potential, hurting those you love, or not being able to control your actions. However, denying the disease only exacerbates the shame and makes it toxic. Accepting the chronic nature of your substance use disorder and its role in your life will help you accept your addiction. It will enable you to accept yourself and recognize that you are not your addiction and have so much to be grateful for.
- You’ll be able to Identify and address the issues that led to the addiction. Substance abuse and denial are two forms of escape that can be used to hide from or self-medicate problems. In many cases, addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety or depression, and long-term substance abuse can lead to mental health issues. By letting go of addiction denial, you allow yourself to discover and heal the underlying issues preventing you from living a happier life.
It takes strength to start the recovery process and go to rehab, and it’s never an easy feat. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to make sure you’re doing the best you can without feeling forced into recovery. It’s important to remain patient, continue to try to allow your loved ones to support you, and talk to professional counselors and therapists if necessary.
If you need additional guidance or assistance with an intervention for a loved one, contact Discovery Point Retreat at 855-306-8054.