Denial is a hallmark characteristic of addiction. Every person with a substance problem has had some form of denial for some period of time. It is the primary reason substance problems progress and go untreated, taking more and more of a toll upon us and our loved ones as they go.
It’s a very tricky bear to wrestle, and it’s best done with support and compassionate help because it’s hard to grasp something you don’t really believe exists. And, that’s exactly the dilemma of denial in addiction. Denial convinces us that there is no addiction. So, when people speak of our substance problems, we simply aren’t convinced they know what they are talking about. Being confronted by others who see the problem can convince us of many other things, but it takes skilled help for most of us to come out of our denial and see our reality.
When deeply in our denial, we don’t absorb others’ information about a substance problem we have. Our denial diverts us. We instead focus on what we believe are their mistaken assessments and conclusions, fabrications and efforts to hurt us.
This is the nature of denial in a substance problem. Of course, lying is not unusual when there is a drug or alcohol problem we wish to hide. We might adamantly deny we’ve been drinking when of course we know we have, for example, but the symptom of denial in addiction is not a lie we tell to protect our secrets. It is more a perceptual problem brought on by a substance illness itself. In a very real way, denial is evidence that addiction is a smart and manipulative disease. It hides itself, continues on with its business, and enlists us to conspire with it through. When we are ill with a Substance Disorder, we simply cannot perceive we are in trouble because we use.
1. Are You Annoyed by Others Who Express Concern?
It’s common to be irritated, even angry, when you’re in denial and others mention your substance use. Even the most gently and lovingly expressed concerns can rankle you when you are in denial. This defensive reaction is an unconscious attempt to protect your use and to push others away who seem to threaten it. Listening to the concerns of others, and taking them to heart, would mean you see the problem more clearly yourself. Denial stands in the way of that.
2. Are You Evasive and Secretive about Your Substance Use?
A substance problem will eventually find us concealing the details of it from others, and denial is a way that we ‘conceal’ it from ourselves, too. Consequently, we may be vague with others, not giving the details of how often or how much we use. We may also literally strive to conceal our use altogether. The less we discuss it openly, the less we have to hear the fact, too. Evading and dodging questions, being vague or secretive, or changing the subject when it comes up, all help us continue in denial.
3. Do You Blame Your Use on People, Places or Things?
Not owning responsibility for the problem is another strong form of denial. This means we blame others, our situations or events and life conditions for our use. It’s common to hear people in denial say, for example, if you had my job, marriage, luck, etc., you would drink or drug, too.
4. Do You Think You’re Not Hurting Anyone but Yourself?
This type of denial asserts ‘I’m an adult. I can do what I want!”. And, it is often followed up with some form of “If I do have a problem, it’s not hurting anyone else so leave me alone!” Unfortunately, addiction always reaches out to others in the family, at work and even in the community. One person’s addiction can over time take many victims in emotional pain if nothing else.
5. Do You Focus on Others Instead of Yourself?
When substance problems come up, do you compare yourself to others? This is a classic way of making ourselves feel better about our own use, and a typical attempt to distract others. There is always someone in direr straits we can point to in order to deflect attention away from our problems.
6. Do You Think Binges are Better?
Another common form of denial involves the myth that only people who use every day have a problem. Many with severe substance problems use episodically, or in binges, with periods of non-use in between. In fact, a binge pattern can cause deep denial. It is a matter of selective memory, focusing on the sober times and not the binges.
7. Do You Pretend to Care Just to Get People Off Your Back?
Denial can convince us there is no problem, but the ‘hassles’ of hearing others’ concerns can lead to manipulation just to appease them. Denial is still entrenched when we, for example, go to rehab just to make a partner happy, but not to work on the problem.
8. Do You Make Promises You Don’t Keep?
Denial and promises intertwine in multiple ways. When denial breaks a bit, we might see the problem clearly and earnestly promise not to use. However, when denial rises again, we see no problem in using and break that promise. We might also make promises to quit, just to get someone to back off, but go ‘underground’ in our use.
9. Do You Rationalize Your Need for Substances?
Mentally working out why you need to use substances is a strong form of denial. And, it often involves issues of self-medication. For example, people may say, “I have to drink, or I won’t get any sleep”, or “I have bad nerves, and nothing helps but alcohol or drugs”.
10. Is Everyone Concerned but You?
Probably one of the most undeniable signs you are in denial is that everyone is concerned about your substance use but you.
You Can Break Through Denial into a Healthy Life
No matter how far in denial you have been, you can breakthrough to the happy, healthy and successful life you deserve. Recovery is a process and it requires your commitment, but countless people have successfully completed treatment and gone on to a sustained recovery. You can, too.
If you or a loved one need help, reach out today. Your breakthrough is waiting.