Denial: The Primary Roadblock to Addiction Recovery
Denial is one of the main roadblocks that can keep a person from enrolling in addiction treatment and moving forward with their life.1 So what does this look like daily? How can we help our loved ones overcome their denial and accept the help they need to get better?
Addicted and In Denial
As a person on the outside, it may be difficult for you to understand how your loved one can deny their addiction and the problems it causes, especially when it is so obvious to everyone else around them.
First of all, the thoughts of an addicted individual will not align with those of their loved ones because it is clouded by the substance abuse. Trauma or mood disorders could also be inhibiting their ability to think clearly and practice sound judgment.
An addict may also hold certain attitudes and beliefs about his or her substance abuse that seem to be true, but are in fact, just lies. Some attitudes and beliefs your loved one may express are as follows:
- They just don’t care. Some addicts get to the point where they just don’t care about their lives or the damage they are inflicting upon themselves.
- They believe they are in complete control. Your loved one may believe that he or she can stop using drugs or alcohol whenever they want and it’s not an issue of control (or a lack thereof).
- They don’t think their addiction is harming anyone else. Addicts may struggle to see how their behavior is affecting the people around them. Sometimes it takes an organized intervention to open their eyes to the damage they are causing.
- They view themselves as a victim. Addicts may think they face more stress than everyone else or that life is out to get them, therefore, they wouldn’t be able to cope without drugs or alcohol.
When a loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol, they are completely unaware or unwilling to accept that they need help or should enroll in a drug rehab program right away. Denial can play out in a variety of ways during active addiction, such as:
- Manipulating loved ones by playing the victim card or being a martyr.
- Accusing loved ones of judging or condemning them for speaking up about their substance use.
- Denying that they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
- Blaming you or others for their problems that have been caused by the substance abuse.
- Disregarding any harmful or damaging actions loved ones have accused them of.
If your loved one is displaying any of the above behaviors, he or she is most likely in denial about their addiction. Unfortunately, letting this continue can lead to serious consequences.
The Damage of Ongoing Denial
Ongoing denial of addiction is something that may even continue well into the first few days or weeks of a drug and alcohol rehab program. It’s not always an easy thing for addicted individuals to overcome, but it can be very damaging if it is allowed to fester.
Denial distorts reality.
When a person denies their addiction, they are attempting to manipulate their loved ones into believing the same. This may even lead loved ones to question their own perception of the situation or doubt that what they believe is a real problem. This distortion of reality is the addict’s way of ignoring the problem and as a result, the destruction and chaos continue.
Denial causes isolation.
Your loved one may just be sick and tired of you and others confronting him or her about the substance abuse, so he or she may begin to pull away and seek out isolation. He or she may only choose to spend time with people who also abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to escape the ridicule.
Denial breeds codependent behaviors.
As you continually try to help your loved one see his or her addiction problem, you may begin to develop codependent behaviors that are neither healthy for you nor the addict. The only way to avoid this is to disconnect and let the addict experience the consequences of his or her decisions. This can be extremely difficult and painful, but it may eventually encourage your loved one to seek help.
How to Help an Addict Who Is in Denial
You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to help your loved one if he or she won’t even admit there is a problem. Although it’s easy to feel discouraged and like it’s hopeless to even try, there are several ways you can attempt to help an addict in denial.
- Organize an intervention. Many family members of addicts worry that an organized intervention will only push their loved one away and make them feel judged or accused. Although sometimes this can happen, most organized interventions are highly successful in getting a loved one to accept help and enroll in a drug and alcohol rehab program. If you’re concerned that your loved one may not respond well to an intervention, it would be wise to seek out the help of a professional interventionist, also known as an intervention specialist. These professionals are trained to plan and hold interventions and have experience conducting successful ones.
- Pursue involuntary commitment to treatment. Some states have laws that will allow a parent or loved one to involuntarily commit their loved one to a drug and alcohol rehab program.2 One example is the Florida Marchman Act, which allows families to petition the courts for mandatory treatment for a loved one.3 Although every state law is different, typically a parent or loved one must prove that a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol and there must be a significant cause for concern that the person will inflict harm on themselves or another person if they are not committed. Additionally, if a person is completely incapacitated by their substance abuse and does not have a family member or friend to help provide basic needs like food and shelter, he or she may be involuntarily committed to a rehab center.
- Let it go. This is perhaps the most difficult decision for a loved one to make. In some cases, there is nothing more that can be done for a person and he or she must come to accept the addiction on their own. It can be difficult to watch a person struggle, especially when those consequences could be life-threatening, but sometimes this is the only way.
You cannot always make the decision for your loved one, but an organized intervention may be the best way to address an addict’s addiction and denial and encourage them to enroll in a drug and alcohol rehab program.