Denial in Addiction Recovery
Before beginning on the road to recovery, individuals need to accept their addiction and distance themselves from denial. Denial is the refusal to accept something that is presented as true and is a fundamental obstacle to recovery. Almost all addicts are likely to deny that they have a problem with substance abuse before they seek treatment and commit to a life of sobriety. For example, when addicts’ behaviors are classified as troublesome by others, their automatic response is typically denial expressed as defensiveness.
Psychologists define denial as a form of self-deception that detaches an individual from their true situation. Two manifestations of denial are suppression and disregard. While these psychological processes can be conscious processes, they are most likely subconscious and default responses, using denial as a defense mechanism.
Denial and Substance Abuse
Individuals with substance abuse problems use denial as a way to prevent intense emotions and the need to accept that they have a problem. When individuals do not have the ability to cope with negative situations, denial becomes a desperate way to avoid feeling them. The cost of this emotional boundary is the inability to seek help. For example, an alcoholic may dismiss that their abundant drinking is a real problem.
Denial is the likely explanation for why harmful habits associated with substance abuse continue even after the person experiences toxic results. Even when the signs of an addiction problem are obvious, such as losing a job, suffering from deteriorating health, and disrupting family dynamics, an individual may still be in denial. Remaining ignorant of the facts of their own lives in the midst of substance abuse makes it difficult to convince an individual to step onto the path of recovery.
The Role of Denial in Addiction
Denial in addiction often stems from shame, low self-esteem, intense self-hatred, and a detrimental concept of self-worth. For any individual, especially for a drug addict, it can be painful to acknowledge the damage they have created for themselves and everyone else in their life through their drug use.
When addicts are high on their drug of choice, their negative feelings and beliefs are temporarily erased, and denial blossoms. For instance, alcohol and heroin specifically numb users and make it easy for them to deny the negative consequences that are created in their life through their drug use. Ending denial and accepting their own problems requires these users to end the behavior that causes these consequences.
Denial As An Obstacle to Recovery
Denial is often a factor in postponing recovery, but other research has shown that addicts do not consider negative consequences not out of denial, but due to an impairment of insight and self-awareness caused by drugs in the brain. Substance abuse problems lead to chronic exposure to toxic substances that can disrupt brain functioning.
For example, research has shown that chronic drug use is associated with an impaired insular cortex. Impairment in the insular cortex results in dysfunctional behavior and a lack of self-awareness. This disruption to the brain often manifests when an individual denies the severity of their addiction and the necessity for treatment and a life in recovery.
This manifestation is often witnessed during interventions when loved ones are worried about one’s drug use and reach out with concerns. At this point in their addiction, only a tiny fraction of excessive drinkers will admit they have a drinking problem and acknowledge the issues it is causing in their lives. This phenomenon explains why many individuals continue drinking until they reach a breaking point when they realize that the behavior is destructive and harmful to their lives.
Helping Someone in Denial About Addiction Recover
Denial also plays a huge part in recovery because many addicts are unable or unwilling to invest in their future. When choosing drug use, many individuals are not weighing the future consequences of their actions. Instead, the positive feelings of drug use are clear and immediate, while the negatives of drug use are out of sight in the moment. Individuals who struggle with addiction choose drugs even though these choices often have dire consequences in the long term. In the presence of their drug of choice, and in the heat of the moment, individuals choose drugs because the unseen future benefits of healthy relationships, opportunities, and wellness are not immediate.
At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we emphasize the importance of “playing the tape through” and thinking about how behaviors have consequences. Denying or pushing away consequences never solves the issue, it only prolongs the problem.
To understand addiction requires understanding the logic and cognitive process of an addict. Denial is one of the main reasons why addicts keep using despite evidence of harm and negative consequences. Early in treatment and in recovery, emotions, especially anxiety, that are associated with thinking about life without drugs make denial an easy out. However, this denial in the moment only alleviates anxiety, giving it time to fester and continue intensifying.
Beginning to acknowledge, accept, and admit the role that addiction plays in our lives can make recovery clear and the path of least resistance. Consider the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous: to admit that you have a problem and begin to seek out help. Unfortunately, denial is common among individuals struggling with addiction. While on the surface, denial is seen as a way to protect addicts from the emotional pain associated with drug use, it can be deadly if not stopped.
At Boardwalk Recovery, we are aware of this common behavior and work closely with patients to open their eyes to the benefit of addressing their issues head on and tackling denial sooner rather than later. If you have a loved one in denial about their substance abuse, contact us for help today.