One of the most challenging things for a person to accept is that they may have a problem. Denial is one of the most common human feelings in existence. Human beings control their perception of the world around them. Denial is a powerful tool to help them feel as though they are in control of a situation. Unfortunately, denial also reinforces the idea that they don’t need help to deal with the situation in question. A substance use disorder is a terrible ordeal to go through. Unfortunately, not many people who undergo this ordeal accept that they have a problem and might need help to overcome it. Many of them invent different realities that they can control to replace the real world. Addiction denial is a way to rationalize their feelings of control, even if it’s apparent to anyone else that they are not in control of the situation.
Addiction removes a person’s agency from the equation. When a person starts taking a drug, they quickly become dependent on it. Dependence happens when the brain rewires itself to deal with the new chemical present in the system. This rewiring can produce different behavioral outcomes, one of which is that the person needs the drug to remain functional. At some point in seeking out these drugs, the user starts getting more and more reckless. This recklessness can quickly lead to undesirable situations. Addiction is a brain disease that drives this thought process. Persons suffering from a substance use disorder don’t think rationally about their choices. In fact, their desire for the drug is what drives every action they take. They no longer have control of themselves, no matter how much they’d like to think they do.
Denial And Addiction
Persons suffering from substance use disorder can do a lot of damage to their relationships. For someone who’s on the outside of the situation, it’s easy to see how they are destroying their interpersonal relationships. However, many of these individuals don’t see it that way. Because they can rationalize their behavior as desirable, they see anyone who stands in their way as someone who won’t support them doing what they like. The situation becomes even more complicated when a person has a co-occurring condition such as bipolar disorder. Co-occurring cases make it even more difficult for a person to remain objective and think logically in some circumstances. There are several critical reasons why people suffering from substance abuse might be in denial.
- No Care: Sadly, some individuals get to the point where they don’t care about what happens to themselves or their relationships. This situation arises when addiction has led to ruin in so many parts of a person’s life that they’ve accepted that this is how others see them. It’s a resignation to a life where they can’t maintain any relationships with others, leading to isolation.
- They See Addiction as Victimless: Many drug users don’t see how their behavior harms others and themselves. This mindset is usually espoused by individuals who can juggle their addiction with their life. They see addiction as a positive thing and that it doesn’t harm anyone else. Usually, an intervention is needed to help them realize the harm they’re doing to themselves and their loved ones.
- They Think They’re in Control: Addiction can spiral out of control rapidly. Addiction can overwhelm a person and drive them to do illogical and harmful things from one day to another. Unfortunately, because the individual can rationalize their decision, it seems as though they are in complete control of the situation. Many times, it takes someone to make them look in the mirror to notice what’s happening.
- They See Themselves as The Victim: Redirecting is a classic method of gaslighting. Many individuals suffering from substance use disorder quickly shifts the focus when rehab discussion begins. They might accuse the person suggesting it of all manner of things. By changing the narrative to one where they are the victim, they can rationalize a person attempting to help them as the “evil” one.
Denial comes in many forms, each dedicated to preserving that idea that the person has so carefully crafted in their head.
What Does Denial Look Like?
Sometimes addiction denial is easy to spot. The longer a person is involved with an illicit substance, the easier it is to spot their addiction denial. One of the most common statements they’d raise is that they can stop anytime they like, even though this is a lie to anyone seeing their behavior. With socially acceptable drugs like alcohol or marijuana, denial is likely to be very blatant. Since everyone does this substance, then it’s unfair to focus on them directly. This rationale can make it difficult to talk about addiction with the person, but their denial is out in the open.
In other situations, denial might not be such a simple affair to spot. When a person suffering from substance abuse says they have things under control, it’s challenging to find a way to prove otherwise. Even if you have a lot of evidence, it won’t be enough to get that person to admit they have a problem. Addiction tends to lead to the collapse of a person’s life, little by little. From interpersonal relationships to their livelihood, everything seems to just break down because they neglect it. In such a case, the person might be willing to lie about the situation, even telling others that they are doing well when they aren’t. Denial relies on a complex web of lies, sometimes to themselves. Denial can be broken down into several different stages, depending on how invested the person is to changing their perception of reality.
Stages Of Denial in Substance Use
Denial starts from a simple statement about not having a problem but can spiral out of control, just like a person’s addiction. Researchers have pinpointed three distinct stages of denial:
At stage one, denial, a person completely denies that they have a problem or that their substance use is out of control. The individual might accept being addicted to a few drugs but not having a condition that requires help to overcome. In stage one denial, a person’s entire belief system props up the idea that they aren’t dependent on the substance. To deal with this belief, the whole framework of seeing themselves and their addiction needs to change. Some stage one sufferers might accept that they have issues and might even understand how those issues come to be. Unfortunately, this understanding is intellectual at best and doesn’t do anything to change their belief in their addiction. If anything, it just asks for compliance of the person. Change in belief is a long process and can’t happen overnight or with a single discussion about it.
At stage two denial, a person thinks that they can face the challenge of remaining sober after rehab on their own. This stage of denial comes from an unwillingness to admit that they are powerless to stop themselves from seeking out the substance. Stage two denial plays into a person’s belief in self-sustenance. While a person might overcome addiction in a facility, remaining sober in real life can prove to be genuinely challenging. Support networks are the perfect way to stay on with the community and give back to it after they’ve recovered. However, it requires accepting that they can’t do this alone. Many people, especially loners and independent thinkers, have a hard time accepting this fact.
Stage three denial deals with the maintenance of long-term sobriety. A recovering person will be faced with many temptations when they go back to the real world. Rehab may have sheltered them at their most vulnerable, but they have to keep their sobriety in the face of these temptations. Many people neglect to pay attention to their promise to themselves. The best way to overcome this stage of denial is to get involved in helping others. Remaining in the community gives a person the support they need from the people around them. Forging new friendships is a crucial part of overcoming addiction.
Removing Shame from The Denial Equation
Part of the reason denial is such a common occurrence in addiction treatment is the shame associated with being addicted. Shame is a powerful motivator because it makes a person unwilling to admit to something. In many situations, individuals have gone through emotionally scarring events where shame played a significant part. These memories, coupled with how they themselves see persons suffering from substance use disorder, create that underlying shame of admitting to this condition.
Shame needs to be removed before a person will accept that they need help. Discussing it with a person can help them come to terms with that removal, but denial often stands in the way of this discussion. Shame forms the basis for this denial, but the denial protects an honest debate about guilt. This discussion might seem like a challenging prospect, but there are ways that a concerned loved one can get help for a person in denial.
Getting Help for Someone In Denial
Getting help for someone in denial can come in many different forms. However, it’s important to remember that any sort of recovery requires the person to be on board with it. A person who doesn’t want to recover can’t be forced to. When dealing with someone in denial, some approaches work better than others. Some of the common ways to get help for someone in denial include:
- Discussing the situation: Sometimes, it may take many sit-down sessions to get to the heart of the matter, but it might be worth the effort.
- Let the person go and deal with the consequences: Loved ones have hard decisions when it comes to addiction, and letting a person go their own way might be the only option they have left.
- Set up an intervention: Interventions are a method of getting a person to accept their reality and get out of denial, but they must be carefully planned, or else they may backfire.
Intervention And Denial
Friends and family of a person suffering from substance disorder might consider intervention. Typically, this approach is a planned meeting that sees a professional present in helping that person overcome their substance use disorder. During the intervention, the person may face comments and questions from those gathered to help them, showing them the error of their ways and asking them to accept treatment. It can be an emotionally charged situation and might lead to a distinctly positive outcome. Having a professional present can help to ease this acceptance. It’s not recommended to plan an intervention for someone without professional input. In such a case, tensions may flare, and there could be a situation where the person decides to leave forever. The worst-case scenario sees an intervention destroying the relationships between the person suffering substance use disorder and those gathered at the intervention entirely.
Ways Of Talking to Someone In Denial
Talking to someone in denial is one of the best ways to help them overcome their addiction denial. One of the best approaches to doing this is to enhance their motivation. When someone relies on an intervention to bring a person’s denial into focus, they create an aggressive climate that might lead to the person reacting negatively. Focusing on the positive part of the discussion and motivating the person to leave their addiction behind, the results are usually much more rewarding. There’s also less risk of destroying the relationship between the person suffering from substance abuse and the one motivating them. Dealing with someone in denial requires one to avoid shaming or blaming them for their behavior. Instead, empower them through discussion and give them the help they need to seek out treatment.
Treatment Resources for Family And Friends
There are many places a person can seek out addiction treatment. Circle of Hope is a rehab facility that pays close attention to its patients. We deal with rehab from a unique, personal perspective. We believe that everyone has the potential to leave their substance use disorder behind. Give us a call today to arrange for a visit for you or your loved one. Let us help you break through the walls of denial and overcome addiction.