Why Denial Is Harmful and How to Overcome It

Why Denial Is Harmful and How to Overcome It

Many people who abuse substances or have substance use disorder (SUD) practice forms of denial. Some say they can quit at any time, though they know they won’t even try. Others ignore or minimize the harmful health consequences of continued use. Still, others lie to family and friends about their addictive habits. In all these cases, these individuals ignore the severity of the problem. This is an incredibly harmful and detrimental space to be in. Denial is a powerful mindset and, unfortunately, a major barrier to seeking professional treatment. 

Different Forms of Denial

People who are in denial about addiction tend to distort reality. Denial can be a coping mechanism they use to justify their continued dependence on substances. It also helps them cope with shame, guilt, and self-judgment. However, once adopted by an individual who struggles with substance abuse, this state of mind becomes self-deceiving and can perpetuate false narratives. 

The most common form of denial is minimizing the harm of the situation. People may act like drug or alcohol use is just a form of entertainment. They may say things like, “It’s not that bad,” or, “Lots of people use or drink more than I do.” These narratives ignore that any amount of use can eventually lead to dependence or SUD.

People also use denial as a form of justifying their actions. For example, a person may say they only drink heavily when feeling stressed. Similarly, they may rationalize alcoholism by saying they “just need a little help getting through a rough patch.” Some people may reward themselves with drugs or alcohol following a celebratory event as if they have earned it.

The most challenging form of denial is self-deception. People can convince themselves that, despite some harmful effects, drugs and alcohol are necessary parts of normal adult life. If they wanted to, they could quit at any time. However, they ignore that many people struggle with addiction their whole lives, even if they are sober. Self-deception often leads to deceiving others which often leads to broken relationships. 

What Are People Trying To Hide?

These different forms of denial are justifications people use to avoid seeking treatment. Rather than facing the severity of the problem, they downplay the consequences and ignore the remedy. Perhaps some people have been fed false information about addiction and recovery. A mindset of denial can be poisonous because it is self-justifying and runs from the truth. 

Denial also hides the reality that many people need urgent help. Some people harbor denial because of self-destructive tendencies deeply rooted in a strong sense of shame. Instead of confronting and overcoming that shame, they prefer an easier route, which is escapism through denial.

The Dangers of Denying

It is often easier to see the harm of denial in others than in oneself. Denial is a defense mechanism that helps people avoid unpleasant feelings in the early stages of substance use. It is a process that allows them to assuage their feelings and justify risky actions. Denial can be what starts people down the slippery slope to addiction.

Once someone develops substance dependence and addictive habits, denial can become even more harmful. People may begin to hide their actions from family and friends. They may even become deceitful and untrustworthy. Once relationships are shattered because of the lies they tell, they may only experience more devastation. More emotional stress and continued denial will drive them further down the rabbit hole of addiction.

Stages of Change While Overcoming Denial

People need to break free of the denial cocoon before they can begin treatment. The first step toward this goal is often increased self-awareness. People must begin to see their substance use as problematic. The realization that it is bad or out of control or that they need to stop may be a wake-up call. If caring family and friends encourage treatment at this point, they can end the denial.

The next stage of change involves making plans to change behaviors. Some people may try to quit substances on their own. This means that they have emerged from denial. Although they may no longer want to continue using, recovery is not as simple as quitting. Treatment is necessary.

A significant milestone in overcoming denial comes when a person learns new skills about achieving sobriety and preventing relapse. Once equipped with evidence-based knowledge about how addiction develops and how to break free from it, they might feel more motivated to change. 

Long-Term Recovery and Re-Emerging Denial

Many recovering individuals may not realize that denial may re-emerge along the journey, even after years of sobriety. It often takes the form of complacency, thinking they are in control of their substance use and relapse is not a concern. They may stop doing the things that have kept them sober for that long.

Long-term recovery requires perpetual alertness based on a sense of humility. Realizing that willpower alone will not be enough and how chronic this brain disease may become, a recovering individual should invest in self-care because their sobriety depends on it. They should also stay connected to a strong recovery community by attending peer support groups such as the 12-Step meetings.

Do you have a loved one who hesitates about beginning treatment because of denial? There are ways you can help this person break free. The first step is getting educated about addiction for yourself and your loved one. Meanwhile, research different treatment centers before deciding which one best suits your loved one’s needs. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced recovery experts and family therapists can help you better support a loved one to stay hopeful during this challenging journey. We are known for our comfortable atmosphere, family therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapies, family relationship programs, and 12-Step groups. We embrace a holistic approach to sustainable recovery. Call us today at (866) 774-1532.