denial about an addiction

Signs of Addiction: Are You Ignoring Reality?

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Addiction is a tricky thing; one of the symptoms is, in fact, that the person with a substance disorder does not want to admit that anything is wrong. Denial is, in fact, a significant obstacle to recovery, because the person is not willing to accept that they need help.

So, how do you get somebody to realize they have a problem? It can be hard, but it can be done.

Symptoms of Denial 

A person with a substance use problem will seek out all kinds of “evidence” that they are not, in fact addicted. This is a defense mechanism that protects the person’s conscious mind from their problem. Symptoms include:

  • Expressing the fact that you don’t have a problem because you haven’t been arrested, etc.
  • Believing you can stop using any time, often validated by short periods of sobriety in the past.
  • Making excuses, such as self-medication, calming nerves, or social pressure.
  • Blaming others for the problem.
  • Admitting you have a problem intellectually, whilst not really accepting it.
  • Seeking out information that “proves” that you don’t have a problem.

All of this gets in the way of seeking help, and trying to tell the person they have a problem often leads to worse denial. Those around the person with a problem can also experience denial, due to the shame that often accompanies having a family member with these issues.

Why is Denial Part of Substance Use?

Denial is, as already mentioned, a protective mechanism. People deny their substance use to avoid the physical and mental stress of withdrawal, the same and stigma associated with addiction, or even legal consequences.

They are writing a narrative in which things are not, cannot be, that bad even as they spiral from bad to worse. It’s a coping mechanism that only gets stronger the more the person is hurting.

How Can Denial be Overcome?

For some people, unfortunately, rock bottom has to be reached before they can break through this and start to accept help. They have to lose a job, or a relationship, or their children. Or they end up in jail. Rehab will not work until somebody is willing to admit their problems and accept outside help.

Fortunately, it’s possible, if hard, to overcome denial without having to descend into utter misery first. The first step is getting somebody to realize they have a problem. To achieve this, education is important, with a greater understanding not just of the negative consequences of drug use, but of the fact that anyone can have a problem and it does not make you a bad person.

From then on, therapy can help. A specialized therapist can help people face their problems and start to develop new coping mechanisms. Journaling can help people keep track of how much they are using and when, and establish what causes them to reach for a drug. A therapist can help people learn how to tell what of their thinking is influenced by drugs, stop making excuses and open their mind more about addiction and who it affects.

Another way to help is self-help support groups, seeking out the company of others struggling with the problem. This helps remind you that everyone in this situation is human. Most people who fall into drug use and other addictive behaviors are people who are struggling with life and/or mental illness, who need help and support, not judgment.

Overcoming confirmation bias is the first step to getting help. If you, or a loved one, think you might have a problem, then contact First Steps Recovery. We are an addiction treatment center in Fresno California. Call us at 844-489-0836 to find out more and schedule an appointment.



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