Addiction treatment is more than just identifying and handling addiction and withdrawal symptoms. It is also important to understand some of the side behaviors that accompany addiction such as denial. Addictions often deny that there is an addiction in the first place, and even when they acknowledge being addicted they still may dismiss the significance of the addiction. Overcoming denial is often the first step in treating addictions at an alcohol or drug rehab. Denial of the addiction is an important component in keeping addiction alive.
Denial is a defense mechanism that we all use to keep our lives in balance and it’s sometimes necessary for our mental health. However, with alcohol or drug addiction denial is taken to the extreme and becomes an obstacle to recovery. An addict will blame everything and everyone except their own substance abuse for their problems to avoid feeling helpless and out of control. Addicts also tend to use drugs or alcohol to cover unpleasant feelings and by coming out of denial, those unpleasant feelings will come to the surface. An example is someone who has suffered abuse; they may use drugs or alcohol to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. In order for a drug rehab to treat this type of dual diagnosis, most the post-traumatic stress disorder and the addiction should be addressed at the same time.
Denial is a common feature of addiction. People who suffer from alcoholism frequently underestimate the amount of alcohol they consume and the impact alcohol has had on their personal life or health. They often overestimate their ability to control their drinking or quit without assistance. In psychology, addiction denial is considered to be an unconscious ego mechanism. To fully acknowledge the addiction problems would be so threatening to the individual’s ego that he or she must misconstrue, reinterpret, or forget the facts of their addiction. This interpretation sees denial as an emotional rejection of the truth instead of a simple failure in insight. Another interpretation of denial is that it stems from cognitive failure which could be from mental rigidity or poor ability to deal with complexity. These may involve an inability to search the memory for evidence of alcoholism and poor discrimination of relevant from irrelevant evidence. These problems are common in alcoholics.
Drug addicts are often regarded as being in ‘denial’ or not recognizing the severity of their disorder. Although denial is frequently considered to be a form of deception, research suggests that it may be due to a specific brain dysfunction comparable to that observed in neuropsychiatric illnesses. For example, patients suffering from schizophrenia often have compromised awareness of their symptoms and the severity of their disorder. This compromise can aggravate symptoms and decrease responsiveness to treatment. These impairments are in the same brain regions that underlie addiction symptoms – such as continuing substance abuse despite catastrophic consequences. Doctors are exploring the possibility that addiction symptoms – craving and compulsion and the chronic relapsing nature of addiction – may be due to compromised insight. This may explain why addicted persons have a hard time recognizing, accepting, and/or acknowledging their signs and symptoms of addiction and need for alcohol or drug rehab. Researches hope that they can use their findings to create more effective intervention strategies and improve prognosis in addiction.
The progression of denial starts with minimizing. The addict will say that use less than they actually are and will underestimate the problem and the consequences. Then there will be excuses and rationalizing. Elaborate stories are created to justify substance abuse or situations where it is understandable. For example, ‘if you had my life, you would drink too’. Denial thrives when an addict places blame on another person or event instead of taking personal responsibility. Someone else is always responsible for solving the problem, not the user. It usually takes a personal crisis, medical evidence, or an intervention to counter denial.
Recovery cannot begin until an addict admits they have a problem. In fact, in 12 Step programs found at most Florida drug rehabs, the First Step involves the addict acknowledging that they have a problem. If someone you love is in denial about their alcohol or drug addiction, let the person know that you’re open to talking about the subject. People who are facing distressing issues frequently fear that people close to them will be unable to cope and will abandon them. This security may give your loved one the strength to move forward and take action. You can also offer to meet together with a doctor or mental health provider.