It’s not a new thing that people living with a substance use disorder deny that they have a problem. Since addiction has existed, people afflicted with addiction have always denied that they may have an issue with substance abuse. Many people who are living in active addiction may deny that they have a problem with using drugs because they fear what they are without them or what they’d do to manage untreated mental health symptoms without drugs or alcohol. While people may deny they are experiencing addiction and that they simply use drugs or alcohol as an escape, denying that addiction is an issue is a defense mechanism they may utilize as a way to continue using. Exploring the causes of addiction denial can help people who may be living with addiction to understand more about why they may deny having an issue with using addictive substances, even if they are experiencing many of the consequences of addiction in full force. This way, they can understand where their denial is coming from and whether or not they should be taking the steps necessary to get help.
People who are living with addiction may deny some aspects of addiction. Addiction denial can occur on a spectrum, meaning that it can differ from person to person in severity. For example, some people may be experiencing the consequences of addiction and understand that these consequences may be occurring as the result of addiction. But, deny that help is necessary for them as they believe they can overcome it themselves. On the other hand, other addicted individuals may not yet be experiencing severe consequences of addiction as they are rather high functioning. As a result, they may believe that they have control of their addictive behaviors and don’t need help since they don’t think that using addictive substances is something that severely affects their lives.
In either case, denial about addiction is something that is done out of self-defense, leading an individual to believe that they are protecting themselves as the alternative, getting help and getting sober, takes away something that they depend upon. The reasons that individuals may deny addiction as the result of a coping mechanism are many and can include:
People utilize drugs and alcohol to cope with unwanted feelings and mental health issues. Without the use of drugs or alcohol to numb these issues, people may fear that they don’t have what they need to control these issues.
Using drugs and alcohol as a long-term solution to managing unwanted feelings and symptoms of mental health issues can change the chemical release of the brain. Essentially, after a while, the brain depends on addictive substances to release mood-altering chemicals that are responsible for mood management. This can lead people living with addiction to believe that they need to use addictive substances just to feel better.
Living with addiction can lead to the development of negative emotions due to things that people have done to obtain their drug of choice including manipulating others, lying, and stealing. This can cause a person to feel guilty or shameful of their addictive behaviors. And, stopping the use of drugs or alcohol means having to face these difficult behaviors, which can lead to addiction denial.
If you’re a loved one of a person who is in addiction denial, there are some things you can do to help. First and foremost, you can educate yourself about addiction and how to support both yourself and your loved one. Additionally, you can learn about enabling behaviors and how to neglect to perform these behaviors yourself. Finally, you can research treatment and how this can help a person who’s living with addiction to gain sobriety. And, ask your loved one if they may be open to getting help at a place like Yellowbrick, an outpatient mental health treatment facility.
Yellowbrick collaborates with adolescents and emerging adults, ages 16-30's, their families and participating professionals toward the development and implementation of a strategic “Life Plan.” An integrative, multi-specialty consultation clarifies strengths, limitations, and risks, and defines motivations, goals and choices.
A mental health condition that’s characterized by intense shifts in mood including both manic and depressive episodes.
People living with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, experience episodes of depression and sadness that are debilitating to daily life.
Those living with anxiety disorders experience high levels of anxiety and stress that interfere negatively with daily life.
A mental health issue in which a person’s cognitive function is impaired, resulting in symptoms like experiencing challenges with conducting speech, reading and writing, and behavior.
Mental health disorders that negatively affect a person’s behaviors, thought patterns, and function. People diagnosed with these disorders experience challenges with managing relationships and understanding various situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that people can develop as a result of experiencing traumatic situations, characterized by symptoms including flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and more.
A mental health condition that is characterized by specific symptoms of forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which makes it challenging to complete necessary tasks.
Mental health conditions that interfere with a person’s eating habits, thought patterns, and behaviors in negative ways.
A mental health disorder diagnosable with the DSM-5 that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.