What Makes an Addict’s Denial So Powerful?

Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that, in healthy doses, can help people cope with trauma, difficult circumstances or upsetting events. Addicts, however, suffer from excessive and unhealthy levels of denial that keep them from recognizing the severity of their substance abuse issues.

An addict’s denial becomes a powerful force allowing him or her to rationalize and minimize his or her substance abuse, even when the signs of addiction should be obvious. Denial is what allows addicts to blame their addictive behaviors on others, and continue using substances in the face of grievous harm to their relationships, lives and health. It is only when an addict recognizes the extent of his or her denial, and faces the reality of his or her addiction, that he or she can begin to recover.

Addicts Use Denial in Different Ways

Active addicts use several different types of denial to convince themselves they do not have a problem. These include rationalizing, minimizing, blaming, hostility and self-delusion.

Rationalizing occurs when an addict makes up excuses to justify his or her use. An addict is rationalizing when he or she tells him or herself, for example, “I deserve a drink after a hard day’s work.” The addict may make these excuses to others or privately to him or herself.

Minimizing occurs when the addict minimizes the severity of his or her addictive behaviors. “I don’t have a problem,” or “I only smoke pot, I don’t do hard drugs,” are examples of minimizing.

Blaming, also known in some circles as diversion, is a denial tactic in which the addict attempts to blame others for his or her addictive behavior. “You drive me to drink,” or “It’s your fault that I do drugs,” are examples of blaming. By doing this, the addict can avoid taking responsibility for his or her substance use.

Addicts use hostility and anger to protect themselves from the concern of those who care about them. When confronted, the angry addict may say things like, “Mind your own business!” or “Don’t tell me how to run my life!” to avoid taking their loved ones’ concern seriously.

When an addict says, “I can stop whenever I want,” or “I’ll deal with my drinking problem when I’m ready, I’m just not ready yet,” he or she is using the type of denial known as self-delusion. Most addicts would stop using if they could.

Why Denial Is So Powerful

Denial is such a powerful force in many addicts’ lives that it can cause them to keep using drugs and alcohol even as their relationships, health, career and family life deteriorate. Some will even cut ties with those they love to continue in their addiction. Why is denial so powerful?

For addicts, the urge to abuse substances is overwhelming — it feels like a matter of life and death, and it becomes the most important thing in their lives, often the only thing they care about. The idea of quitting terrifies most addicts. Denial allows addicts to justify their continued use, no matter what the consequences, so they don’t have to do the difficult and scary work of quitting for good.

Denial is the powerful force that enables addicts to continue using, in spite of all evidence they’re destroying their lives. It allows addicts to fool themselves into thinking they don’t have a problem, rationalize or minimize their behaviors, and even drive those who care about them away. For many active addicts, remaining in denial seems easier than facing the truth.

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