The Truth About Addiction Denial

I Can Stop Anytime I Want To: The Truth About Addiction and Denial

If a person does not believe they have a substance abuse problem, he or she won’t change. Even if the destructive behaviors associated with addiction are obvious to those around an addict, it is often hard for the addict to see what is happening.

If you have ever heard the phrase, “Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery,” that’s because deep-seated denial is often one of the biggest hurdles toward recovery and sobriety. Until someone is ready to admit they need to change, no amount of support will help. However, it is important to understand how denial functions in an addict’s life and how to talk about addiction and offer support during this time.

 

The Types of Denial

Addicts can experience two main forms of denial. The first kind is the addict that knows he or she is an addict, and flatly denies it. The second kind is the addict truly believes there is no problem. This stems from a potent combination of denial, rationalization, and self-deception.

 

The Function of Denial

Denial is a coping mechanism for addicts. The reality of life with an addiction can be brutal from the hangovers to withdrawal symptoms to the sheer cost of maintaining a drug habit. For an addict, it becomes necessary to rationalize their choices and the reactions of their loved ones to cope with their reality.

This is how we hear classic sentences like, “I can stop anytime I want to,” or, “If you just left me alone, everything would be fine.” Addicts will convince themselves they have everything under control.

 

The Definition of an Addict

Denial partly stems from an addict’s own definition of what an addict looks like. If a person thinks an addict is a person with a needle in their arm or that sits on the street drinking booze in a paper bag, then someone that holds down a job, pays the mortgage, and has a family can’t possibly be an addict.

Of course, addiction comes in many forms, but this cognitive dissonance creates space for addicts to deny they have a problem.

 

What to Say to Someone in Denial

Rock bottom is a dangerous place that makes recovering from an addiction even more difficult. Reaching out and offering support for recovery to addicts before they hit rock bottom can make all the difference. It is important to approach this conversation in a careful way. Only broach the topic when he or she is sober and avoid making judgmental statements. You want to show your support without alienating your loved one. Make great use of ‘I’ statements to discuss how he or her addiction makes you feel to illustrate that the addiction does have an impact.


Addiction is a serious topic and you shouldn’t feel alone. If you are struggling, reach out to SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) for round-the-clock support.