Denial about substance abuse is probably the single biggest impediment to recovery for those affected by drug addiction. An addict in denial of a substance related issue is playing a dangerous game, one with serious consequences. In this article, we hope to give some insight into what the denial process often looks like for the active drug addict and how he or she (or a loved one) can help overcome this obstacle.
What is Drug Addiction?
According to National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because of the way the use of drugs change the brain; drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.
While not every drug addict will suffer the most serious consequences of their addiction, the one belief that is typically universal is that the addict has no control when it comes to stopping. Addicts may be able to abstain for a day, a week, a month or even longer, but the compulsion to use again eventually resurfaces. Simply put, the likeliness of an addict relapsing without treatment is high.
Am I An Addict In Denial About Substance Abuse?
There is an old saying in the addiction recovery sphere: If you think you might be an addict, you probably are. Although there might be exceptions to this rule, it tends be true. In fact, we know for certain that as humans, even when we are presented with the hard facts, we tend to stubbornly deny the obvious. An addict will often remain in denial, steadfastly resisting an admission even when faced with dire consequences — including their own life. What could lead an addict to deny the obvious truth and stubbornly resist help? If we knew the answer to that, we might be able to cure addiction for good. The fact is that an addict in denial will continue to suffer from substance abuse without intervention and treatment of the underlying issues.
Calling the Bluff of an Addict in Denial
More often than not, an addict in denial has a natural tendency to deny the seriousness of their. Denial about substance abuse related issue is a result of changes in their brain which uses denial as a powerful survival mechanism to enable the continued substance abuse.
Denial however, is fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for. Almost always, they will resort to justifications for their substance abuse. Such justifications might include:
- 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.
- If I were an addict, would I still have (a job, family, nice house, etc.)?
- I’ve never been arrested.
- I only drink/drug after 5pm and/or socially.
- I’ve never used hard drugs.
- My kids have never seen me high.
Rather than snapping to judgment, the only way to break this cycle of denial is to pause and consider how you might persuade the addict to reach this conclusion on their own. In order to step out of the shadow of denial, we must accept that there is no fool proof checklist of what does or does not constitute an addict. Addiction cannot always be defined based on what has or hasn’t happened to a person. As an example, many confessed alcoholics have never had a DUI, while many DUIs have been given to people who do not identify as being alcoholic. Measuring against external circumstances is just another clever way the addict is able to prop up their denial.
Breaking the Cycle of Denial
Our first goal in overcoming denial of a substance related issue is getting the addict clean and sober. Someone who is still actively using is simply incapable of making a true and honest assessment of their situation. Going to a professionally managed detox/rehab facility is typically the first step when it comes to overcoming substance abuse. Once clean, a path to sobriety can be developed. An addiction specialist is capable of recommending a proper course of action using a custom-tailored solution. Once implemented, the addict is in a better place to move toward sobriety.
Any Denial About Substance Abuse is Dangerous
To be blunt, denying the addiction of a loved one does nothing besides aiding them in their own destruction. This is called “enabling.” It’s toxic, dangerous, short-sighted and ill-advised.
By not facing the facts of the situation and refusing to deal with their addiction head on, addicts have no reason to want to seek recovery. This actually prolongs their substance abuse problem because they are not experiencing any outside forces impeding them. Eventually they will realize that you will not call them to task for their behavior and they will simply deceive you about every little thing until they start experiencing the consequences of their actions. For some people who are surrounded by loved ones who are blind or indifferent to an addict’s behavior, the substance abuse problem can continue for decades.
While it can be tremendously difficult and very uncomfortable to confront your loved one’s addiction, doing so is often the first step in helping them hit bottom. Hitting bottom is an industry term, but the truth is that each addict suffering from denial of a substance related issue has their own threshold where their addiction becomes too much for them. It a decision only they can make and each addict has their own breaking point. The point is that enabling just delays this process, often for many years. This breakthrough moment is necessary before a person will seek help for their substance abuse problem. By addressing the addiction head on as early as possible, you greatly increase the chances of this occurring.
You’ve probably heard many stories about family members who are enablers. They usually go something like this: A family member is using opiates and while you are semi-aware that there is an issue, you choose to say nothing and attempt to convince yourself that nothing is the matter. This individual, being an addict in denial, is fully aware of this and so he will attempt to exploit your denial of addiction and use it as a means to continue his addiction. Over time, the individual becomes emboldened. It may start with stealing money or jewelry out of your home, residential burglary scandals, DUIs, or any number of legal, career or relationship problems that become more serious with each event.
Imagine that same scenario, but this time you are fully accepting of the fact that your family member is an addict and you give him and his disease no quarter. You offer him no excuses and you hold him accountable for his actions. At each step of the way, you address the fact that he is suffering from addiction and you do not pretend otherwise.
In this second scenario, it would be incredibly difficult for your family member to continue his substance abuse. He will be aware that he’s being closely monitored and because of this, he may be more receptive to seeking help.
Dealing with an addict in denial can be frightening and it can be very difficult. It can feel like it is just easier to keep your head in the sand about the whole thing and hope that it goes away on its own, but the consequences are simply too dangerous too risk. In order to help a person seek help for their substance abuse issue, an addict needs to be shown the right direction and by addressing their addiction. By dispensing of your own denial of a substance related issue, you can help them find their way sooner rather than later.