Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), affects nearly 19.7 million Americans, meaning that one in 10 individuals will struggle with an addiction in their lifetime. That same data suggests only about 11% of affected individuals will ever seek out medical treatment, citing issues such as social stigma, poverty, responsibilities, disbelief in the efficacy of rehab, and denial. Of these, denial of addiction is one of the most common, and one of the largest barriers to individuals seeking help.
In fact, a modern drug rehab program often includes motivational therapy and treatment intended to move addicts to the point where they’re willing to seek out therapy. Other tools, such as interventions, have long existed to shock individuals into accepting addiction and getting help.
But, using any tools to help someone with an addiction recognize their problems means recognizing it yourself. Addicts can be intensely self-delusional, to the point where they create a believable and emotional façade around themselves. They may react with anger, blame, and disbelief when confronted about substance use. And, some might function so well that it’s difficult to believe their substance use could be impairing them. Learning to recognize these 7 signs of denial in an addict will help you to see where your loved one is going wrong, and maybe to recognize what you can do to help.
“I can quit anytime I want”, we’ve all heard it. If your loved one is an addict, then you’ve likely hard at least one of any variation of “I am still in control”. You don’t believe it anymore. After hearing it so many times and not seeing the individual act on it or prove it in any way, you’d be silly to believe it. The problem is, they still do.
Avoidance means that the person is quite simply refusing to believe they have a problem. They’re maintaining an internal monologue of self-control. This often manifests in people who still go to work, who maintain control enough to work, study, or spend time with family. They might drink or use in small increments that add up. They might take tiny sips out of a bottle, so they don’t have to notice how quickly it goes down. People struggling with avoidance are difficult to connect with because they’ll often react with rage and disbelief when confronted. That’s fair, considering getting the addict to recognize their problem means changing a core belief, something they use to prop up their sense of self and their worldview. Changing that can be traumatic and shameful. It requires deep personal introspection and the ability to grow. Many people will need either a harsh wakeup call or motivational therapy to get to this point.
2) Shifting Blame
Shifting blame is a tactic most-often used by men and women with substance abuse problems. This (subconscious) tactic involves self-delusion alongside recognition of their own drinking or substance use habits, and recognition that their usage may be problematic. Shifting blame involves the user absolving themselves of responsibility for their own actions by moving it to someone else.
You might hear phrases like, “If X didn’t”, “When Y happens”, “If Z wouldn’t”
- “Work is just so stressful right now”
- “If you wouldn’t nag all the time maybe I wouldn’t drink”
- “Your mom gets on my nerves so much; I need something to cope”
Someone who is blaming others for their problems is on the right track in that they’re at least in part recognizing they have problems. However, they have a long way to go in terms of taking personal responsibility for their own problems and wanting to change. Motivational therapy is a good tool here, if you can get your loved one to go into it. Otherwise, forcing that individual to take on responsibility by removing yourself from the picture may be an answer. Shifting blame is about protecting the ego or the sense of self and appealing to that sense of self is often the way to go.
Shifting blame irrationally makes someone or something else responsible for substance abuse, typically phrased as though the person is at a point where they have no choice but to continue using. This isn’t true.
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3) Rationalizing Substance Abuse
Rationalizing substance use is similar to shifting blame, but intrinsically different in that it’s often about behavior rather than about others causing that behavior. This type of denial typically acknowledges there is a problem, acknowledges that their behavior may be less than socially desirable, and may even show some regret. However, the addict consistently rationalizes their continued usage. When someone goes, “Just one more time then I’ll quit”, they’re likely rationalizing that usage as “one last time before I get clean forever, I deserve it for all the effort I’m about to put in”.
Rationalization can range from harmless to extremely harmful depending on the behavior. For example, students often rationalize using performance enhancing drugs like Adderall to increase test scores. They have to because they’re taking on heavy debt for this course. Persons with stress or anxiety rationalize substance use because they need it to function. People in pain rationalize it because they will be pain free.
These behaviors are difficult to subvert because it can often sound as though the individual has their life together. They have a logical argument as to why they should keep using. But, that argument rarely holds up under questioning. In fact, many are directly contradictory in that the substances they abuse often directly hurt their causes.
4) Comparing Behavior
If you’ve heard a loved one compare their bad behavior to someone else’s bad behavior, they’re likely in denial. Examples of this include:
- “At least it’s not heroin” (e.g., in response to their alcohol problem)
- “I could be jobless and on the streets, and that’s what I’d be if I were actually…”
- “X person drinks twice what I do”
- “At least I only use at parties”
This kind of behavior is essentially the person rationalizing behavior by going, “Actually this could be worse”. It likely could be, but that’s not the point.
5) Lying (Intentional or Unintentional)
Denial quite often manifests as outright lies, but that doesn’t mean the addict is aware they are lying. This is often exacerbated by the fact that substance abuse very much influences memory and short-term memory. Someone lying to your face about only having used once this week might not even remember that they literally shot up 2 hours ago. This form of denial can be difficult to cope with or to talk through, because it involves confronting that individual with their actual behavior.
6) Hiding or Sneaking Substances
How much is someone drinking? How many pills are they taking? It can often be difficult to tell, because addicts in denial will hide their substance use. This often starts out by simply sneaking small amounts to tide them over until they’re allowed to have it. A few nips from a bottle here and there. Drinking from a flask in their desk. Taking a few extra pills along. Running to the bathroom to use. It may be moderate in that someone simply adds a bit more onto what they’re already taking but it might also extend to using a façade of public temperance or even abstinence to fool everyone else. You often see this behavior with individuals who are addicted to prescription pain pills and high functioning addicts who typically use and drink in work settings.
Hiding and sneaking substances becomes incredibly problematic because the individual forgets how much they use as well. Refilling alcohol bottles means they lose track of how much they’re drinking. Sourcing multiple prescriptions or keeping secondary and secret drug stashes means no one can monitor their usage and protect them if things go wrong.
Manipulation can be deliberate or not, but it’s often about using emotional reactions to get accusers or questioners on the side of the accused. So, if someone starts crying and acts hurt when you ask how much they’re taking, they’re manipulating you. If they convince you they’ve turned over a new leaf and are going to go clean but haven’t and they keep repeating the behavior, they are being manipulative. This also applies to when addicts play different people against each other, manipulate others into paying for substances, and otherwise use emotional reactions to get out of taking responsibility.
Dealing with manipulative denial can be difficult, mostly because the addict will almost always make it your problem or make you feel bad for doing so. However, they still have a problem and they still need help.
Getting someone into a drug rehab program is the most effective way to help them get their life back. Unfortunately, if your loved one is in denial, reaching that stage can be difficult. Tools like motivational therapy, interventions, and simply consistently offering nonjudgmental support and help are some effective ways of getting people into therapy. Good luck getting your loved one to seek help.
If you have any questions concerning addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, contact us at Truvida Recovery. Call 877-228-1102 to speak in confidence with an experienced treatment advisor now.