Why Do So Many Addicts Struggle With Denial? by Rehab Recovery Centers

Many individuals suffering from addiction have a hard time recognizing harmful patterns of thought and behavior. This causes them to also have difficulty recognizing that their addiction is what led to the consequences they face. This is known as denial.

It can be extremely difficult to watch an addicted loved one deal with substance abuse and continue to deny that they have a problem. Especially when all you want to do is see them heal, succeed, and lead a happy life.

When dealing with a loved one who is in denial about their addiction, it’s best to try to understand where they are coming from. With that being said, let’s take a look at why so many addicts struggle with denial.

What is Denial?

In psychology, denial is a type of defense mechanism used by individuals who are struggling with a difficult experience. Denial could apply to any type of mentally taxing situation (i.e. the death of a family member, severe mental health episodes, struggling with one’s sexuality, and addiction).

Denial is the act of an individual refusing to recognize painful facts that exist. This is used as a defense mechanism because it allows the individual to avoid painful thoughts, emotions, and events.

What is the Relationship Between Denial and Addiction?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Denial is an unconscious process that functions to resolve emotional conflict or reduce anxiety.”[1]

When it comes to addiction, individuals often struggle with denial during their early struggles with substance abuse. Denial is usually noticed by the individual’s loved ones once the idea of attending treatment is brought up.

Denial is rampant among individuals suffering from substance use disorders. Unfortunately, this can be a huge barrier to treatment and recovery from addiction.

Denial of any condition can lead to a worsening of symptoms over time. However, this is extremely dangerous when it comes to addiction. Addiction and alcoholism are progressive and chronic diseases, often leading to overdose and death in severe cases.

Addicted individuals need to be open and honest with themselves about their substance abuse. Otherwise, their denial will continue to fester, leading to worsened issues with addiction.

What Does Denial Look Like in Addiction?

If you are worried that your loved one is in denial about their addiction, being aware of the symptoms will allow you to help them move forward.

Some examples of what denial looks like in addiction include:

  • Your loved one becomes irritable or defensive when their substance abuse is mentioned. They may accuse you of being dramatic or begin downplaying their relationships with substances.
  • Your loved one uses excuses or rationalizations to justify their substance abuse. They may blame their use on a stressful career, their significant other, or you.
  • Your loved one always seems to have the “right” answers when you confront them about their substance abuse. For example, they may say things like, “I know my limits, alcohol does not affect me the same way as you”, or “I only drink socially, I am not an alcoholic”.

Denial is not an easy thing to watch, however, it isn’t easy to go through either. Most of the time, people struggling with denial are experiencing feelings of fear, shame, doubt, and loneliness.

A few reasons why your addicted loved one is struggling with denial:

  • They think they are in control of their substance use
  • Admitting they have a program is scary and shameful to them.
  • They are using substances to cope with trauma, mental health conditions, or other emotional disturbances and are afraid of getting sober.
  • They have loved ones who are enabling their addiction.
  • Your loved one does not believe that treatment will work for them.

How Does Denial Affect Addiction Treatment?

Individuals who attend addiction treatment and still suffer from denial will have a difficult time fully recovering. Denial is one of the biggest obstacles to recovery, as the individual might not even believe they have an issue to recover from.

When someone is in denial, they may not fully commit to treatment during their recovery program. Additionally, most individuals who are in denial about their addiction during a rehab program are only attending for their loved one’s sake. This makes recovery nearly impossible.

Individuals need to move past the denial stage before treatment. However, if they can do so during the early stages of treatment, long-term recovery is still possible.

How to Help Someone Who Won’t Admit to Having a Drug Problem

If your loved one is struggling with addiction denial, it is important to help them recognize their problem. However, this must be done gently. Convincing someone to go to rehab isn’t easy, and confronting them will only cause them to become defensive and resentful.

The best way to help someone recognize they need addiction treatment is to convince them to attend an addiction support group. This will allow them to hear other people’s testimonies about addiction, causing them to begin relating to the experiences people share.

Another good way to help your loved one admit to having a drug problem is having them attend therapy. Sometimes hearing about their addiction issues from a professional is all it takes.

Once your loved one accepts that they have a problem, you should get them into a professional treatment program quickly. Waiting too long could cause them to get fearful and back out of attending treatment.

Find Help for Yourself or an Addicted Loved One Today

If your loved one struggles with addiction, Rehab Recovery Centers is here to help. Whether they need an intervention, recovery counselor, or an inpatient treatment center – we have your back. Our expert staff can help you and your loved one get connected with all of the recovery resources your family needs.

Contact us today to find a drug and alcohol rehab center near you.


  1. https://dictionary.apa.org/denial

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