Denial means that a person is unable to recognise something important about his or her own situation. This inability to face things is believed to be a type of defence mechanism to protect the ego. Denial can occur when there is something in the person’s behaviour that they just do not want to face. In the case of addiction, the individual may have plenty of evidence that alcohol or drugs are causing great harm, but he or she just cannot accept this evidence. Denial means remaining trapped in addiction indefinitely; the only escape is to recognise the truth.
The Danger of Denial
Denial is not always such a bad thing. If somebody is faced with a situation that is too overwhelming (for example, a personal tragedy), denial can offer some emotional protection as this person adjusts. It is also usual for individuals who find out that they are dying to go through a period of denial on the path of coming to terms with this reality. In the case of addiction though, denial is always bad as it means that the individual is unable to see something that is negatively affecting his or her life.
The thing that makes denial such a threat is that it all happens subconsciously. The individual is not deliberately being deceptive. It is as if those trapped in addiction denial are in a different world. To others it would be obvious how much the individual is being harmed by alcohol or drugs, but this person will have alternative explanations. The addicted mind can blame problems on bad luck, bad weather, a bad environment, etc. The person in this type of situation may be convinced that alcohol or drugs are the only thing helping them cope with all the bad stuff in their life.
The danger of addiction denial is that it keeps the individual trapped in a prison. It means that any attempt to help the person escape the situation is doomed; if the problem were not recognised, there would be no desire to treat it. The only hope is to help the individual see the reality of his or her situation.
Breaking through Addiction Denial
The level of addiction denial that a person experiences can vary from day to day. There are likely to be times when the denial is low enough for the individual to be better able to acknowledge the reality of his or her situation. This improved ability to recognise what is happening can occur when the person has a hangover or has done something he or she deeply regrets. It is at these times that the person may be more willing to listen to concerns about the drinking or drug use. This can also provide the best opportunity to convince the individual to go to rehab or accept some other treatment option. It is always important to move fast when denial is low because these periods do not usually last long.
An addiction therapist can also be an effective resource to help individuals break through the denial of addiction. This professional can help the individual see the reality of his or her situation while also helping the person develop the motivation to change. Denial occurs because of fear of the truth but once people see that the truth is not so bad it then becomes easier to accept. The individual discovers that he or she can have a great life without alcohol or drugs, meaning the reason for the denial disappears. The other important anecdote to denial is the understanding that it is the behaviour that is bad and not the person who is bad.