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Addiction Denial: Could This Be You?

July 30, 2021

By Clint Fletcher

As the worst of the pandemic subsides and we continue our slow return to normalcy, this could be a good time to self-reflect and ask ourselves some important questions. One of those could be whether or not you’ve been living in denial of any health issues that may have cropped up during or before COVID. 

Stress in any form can provoke a variety of psychological defense mechanisms. One study from The European Journal of Psychiatry took a look at the increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety that people experienced during the pandemic. The report showed that many used the coping mechanism of denial to manage the negative health effects of COVID.

For those who may be suffering from a substance use issue but are unsure if it’s serious, it’s important to know that denial is a powerful aspect of addiction. If you’ve found yourself Googling for answers to addiction-related questions or reading blogs like this one lately, pay close attention to your feelings and the signs of denial. If you’re connecting with what you’re learning and feeling a strong reaction to the material, it may be time to call a therapist, treatment center, or recovery group about addiction denial. 

While we may think we are aware of our choices and actions, immense shame can keep us from seeing circumstances as they really are.

Denial Patterns

So, what exactly is denial? According to Elizabeth Hartney, psychologist and Royal Roads University’s director of the Centre for Health Leadership, denial is a state where we deny or distort reality. It is a powerful coping mechanism that is often used to justify or rationalize addiction that can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years.

While we may think we are aware of our choices and actions, immense shame can keep us from seeing circumstances as they really are. As a result, our responses can fall into any number of denial patterns. Here are a few that are common:

  • Minimizing

If someone mentions an addiction issue to us, we may act like he or she is exaggerating or blowing things out of proportion. We may try to convince the person that the situation is not that big of a deal or that whatever we’re doing is normal for us. 

  • Rationalizing

If we have a substance use issue, it can be easy to rationalize that it is not an addiction problem by blaming it on stress or the tough time we’re trying to get through. We may also try to justify our behavior by viewing it as a type of reward earned by our hard work.

  • Self-Deception

This is when we convince ourselves the problem isn’t that bad or as severe as it really is, allowing the addiction cycle to continue strongly uninterrupted. 

Addiction Denial Patterns - The Meadows

Breaking Through Denial

The concept of denial as we know it is listed as a defense mechanism by the Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. It was originally conceptualized by the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud, as the refusal to acknowledge disturbing aspects of external reality, as well as the existence of internal psychological events, such as thoughts, memories, or feelings. 

While addiction denial can be common, none of us have to wait until we hit rock bottom to address it. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, the following methods can help us break through denial and get in touch with our true reality.

  • Psychotherapy

A licensed addiction treatment counselor, psychologist, therapist, or clinical social worker can help treat both addiction and the underlying disorders.

  • Journaling

Making a daily record of your activities is a fantastic way of revealing patterns you may have otherwise overlooked. For example, start writing down how many drinks you have, how often you use drugs, and how much money you spend.

  • Consequences

Think ahead into the near future and recognize potential consequences before they occur. Your bank account could be empty, someone could break up with you, your boss could fire you, and friends could suddenly disappear.

  • Education

If you’re already looking into denial, that’s a great start. The very nature of denial means people may not realize in their conscious minds that they have a problem of any kind. Keep Googling and reading up and then make calls and ask questions. 

The very nature of denial means people may not realize in their conscious minds that they have a problem of any kind.

Treatment at The Meadows

While the exact number of people with addiction issues in the United States is unknown, we do know that thousands of Americans suffer from substance use disorder every year. So, whether it’s you or a loved one who is struggling, you are far from alone. 

The Meadows specializes in the treatment of alcohol, drugs, and the co-occurring disorders that accompany the substances. We’re an industry leader with an evidence-based approach to recovery, delivering every individual personalized trauma-informed care by addressing all types of emotional and childhood trauma. Whether you’re looking for residential or outpatient treatment, we’re here for you. 

We also know how difficult it can be to discuss any kind of addiction issue with a family member. Our clinical team at The Meadows is ready to guide you through your recovery journey in a safe and loving environment and put you on the path to emotional healing. Reach out to our intake specialists today to take that first step in breaking free from denial of addiction.