Unfortunately, denial is common among people with substance use disorder (SUD). It is also one of the major barriers to treatment. To begin receiving treatment and overcoming SUD, one must first overcome denial so they can accept their need for help. Once denial has been removed, treatment can be more successful and recovery more lasting.
Different Kinds of Denial
There are different kinds of denial when it comes to SUD. One kind is minimizing the problem. When an issue like substance abuse is brought up, the person may act like the one bringing it up is blowing things out of proportion. They may claim, “It’s no big deal” or, “It’s not that bad.” They also tend to normalize substance use as “Something that many people do.”
Another type of denial is through rationalizing the behavior. Someone struggling with SUD may justify the use of drugs and alcohol by saying that they are stressed and need something to ease their mind. They may justify it by claiming that they won’t fit in with co-workers or a friend or social group if they choose not to use it.
Denial almost always co-occurs with lies and deception. There tends to be self-deception involved. People with SUD may convince themselves that things aren’t that bad despite evidence of deteriorating health, life and work performance, or relationships.
Denial as a Defense Mechanism
You would think that if people are aware of their own health problems, they would cooperate with health professionals for treatment. That may not be the case for many people who lock themselves in denial mode despite knowing that delaying treatment can be harmful to their health. Denial is a defense mechanism people use to fend off feelings of uncertainty or fear of judgment.
Denial may also be due to widespread stigmatization of addiction or lack of knowledge about the science behind addiction. People who struggle with SUD do not want to be considered morally corrupt. They may believe that addiction can be overcome through sheer willpower. These two incorrect thoughts stem from people thinking that addiction is a choice. Denial may seem irrational but usually has deeper causes that can be addressed.
Denial and Stages of Recovery
Although some people who use substances try to appear in control of their addiction, it is a path that is hard to turn from on one’s own. Early intervention can make the path to recovery much easier. However, denial disrupts this easier path, as people can’t accept they need help. When someone with SUD starts to see their addiction as requiring outside help, they can move into a contemplation period. At this point, they begin considering getting treatment.
Overcoming denial can be accomplished through proper education. Some people may lack the scientific understanding of SUD as a brain disease. Informing them on how the brain’s structures and chemicals change with substance dependency can help them understand why they experience symptoms of withdrawal and relapse that keep them from recovery. Education can remove a layer of intellectual denial.
Denial can also happen even after a person completes treatment. They may consider recovery one and done and so neglect self-care and relapse prevention. Denial can also show up in the form of complacency. Sooner or later, they may return to old habits. This is why continued education and aftercare programs are an important part of long-term recovery.
The Importance of Honesty and Humility
The antidote to denial about addiction is honesty and humility. There are many ways to achieve these two goals. Professional interventionists or therapists who specialize in treating SUD can help people be truthful with themselves about the problem and accept that they can’t overcome this issue on their own and need treatment.
Honesty and humility go both ways. Loved ones of those with SUD should also be honest about their concerns and help the one struggling understand their desire to help them seek sobriety. They can offer their support and help find the right place to help their loved one get sober.
Overcoming Denial by Working With Recovery Experts
There are complex psychological processes and emotions behind people’s denial of addiction. Recovery experts are familiar with how to handle each of these. For the best chance of overcoming SUD, one should work with professionals in the addiction recovery field at a treatment center. Many even provide family-based therapy to get concerned family members involved.
Denial is common among people with SUD, but people should not let lies and deception erode their support for their loved ones who need help. Instead, they can seek help from health professionals. They can help family members better understand the science behind addiction and how to deal with stigma.
If you have overcome denial and begun receiving treatment, this is cause for celebration. Denialism is one of the most common barriers to addiction recovery. Milder forms of denialism may also resurface even after early sobriety. Stay honest and humble throughout this process. Remember how much work it took to get where you are and don’t let denial set you back. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and the more help they have from friends and family, the more sustainable and possible that journey becomes. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can coach and support you to accept your need for help. We even provide help for family members so they can be the best support system possible. Call us today to discover how we can help you overcome denial and recover from SUD. For more information, call 866-934-5276.