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Alcoholic in Denial

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Living with an alcoholic in denial is very difficult. The more the alcoholic denies drinking, the more you may doubt yourself, wondering if the alcoholic is indeed consuming too much alcohol. You may wonder how much alcohol is too much and whether or not their behaviors are normal.

As a loved one, you are likely very worried about the alcoholic. You may be wondering how to help the addict realize that they have a problem so they can get the help they need. At the same time, you may be burned out and frustrated, wondering how you can stay sane as you live the rollercoaster life with an alcoholic in denial.

This article will discuss the symptoms of an alcoholic in denial, what you need to do while the addict is in denial, and treatment options for the alcoholic once they’re ready to reach out for help. Alcoholism denial is tough, but knowledge is power. Keep reading to arm yourself with all the knowledge you need to overcome this challenge.

Symptoms of an Alcoholic in Denial

An alcoholic in denial will behave like a regular addict in many ways, but there will be some specific behaviors that only an alcoholic in denial will exhibit. Also known as a ‘high-functioning alcoholic,’ alcoholics in denial keep their alcoholic behavior secretive so they appear, at least on the surface, to be living regular lives.

Here are some signs a loved one may be an alcoholic in denial:

  • Drinking at irregular times, such as first thing in the morning or before sleep.
  • Rarely ever experiences a hangover (because the body has developed tolerance to alcohol).
  • Becoming irrationally defensive, like shouting, threatening, etc, when asked about alcohol consumption.
  • Periodically missing events or functions like a milestone party or important business meeting.
  • Acting secretive and evasive or lying about where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing.
  • Brushing off concerns about alcohol consumption by making jokes or behaving rudely.
  • Hiding alcoholic beverages in unusual places so that their excessive alcohol drinking won’t be discovered.

Additionally, listen out for things alcoholics in denial say, such as: ‘I have my drinking under control,’ ‘I only drink because my work is stressful/ my wife is annoying/ I need to relieve my back pain,’ ‘I can stop if I want to,’ and ‘it’s my drinking- mind your own business.’ All the above statements are alcoholics shifting blame, showing dismissiveness, rationalizing, and otherwise denying that they have an addiction. 

Alcoholism and Denial

It’s important to note that although some alcoholics are aware that they are addicts and know that they need help, they don’t have the courage to pursue it. However, many alcoholics are genuinely unaware that they may have an issue. Their brain protects them from feeling emotional pain by rationalizing their behaviors, convincing them that they have their drinking under control and they can stop whenever they want to.

An alcoholic in denial is not a bad person- they are very sick people who need firm but compassionate guidance to help them realize that they have a serious issue that will not go away. In fact, it will only get worse unless they enter recovery.

How to Help an Alcoholic in Denial

You cannot enter recovery for your loved one. The alcoholics themselves have to find the courage to admit that they have an addiction and willingly take the steps toward recovery. There are, however, some things you can do to help the addict- and yourself:

  1. Avoid enabling- As the loved one of an alcoholic, you may feel inclined to cover up for your loved one, like making excuses for the alcoholic when they don’t turn up to important events, covering up for them at work, etc. This allows the alcoholic to continue denying the issue because they don’t have to take responsibility for the results of their excessive drinking.
  2. Set boundaries- Make it clear to the addict that some behaviors are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. You may draw a red line somewhere and then take action to reinforce your boundary if it is crossed. You may decide that the addict may not be present with you at certain places when drunk or that they have to relocate if they are drunk and the children are home.
  3. Self-Care- For you to have the emotional capacity to support the alcoholic through the ups and downs of drinking while in denial, you need to take care of yourself. Spend time with people who energize you, partake in relaxing and fun activities, and join an al-non or other support group of people who understand what you’re going through.
  4. Have an open conversation- After trying fruitlessly to help the addict in denial realize the extent of the issue, it’s natural to clam up and have a difficult time discussing the drinking with your loved one. Don’t dance around the topic. Open the lines of communication around the topic in a way that allows you to share your frustration while the alcoholic can share their part of the story, too.

How to Talk to an Alcoholic in Denial 

You may be wondering what to say to an alcoholic in denial that will allow the alcoholic to recognize the fact that they have a serious drinking problem. Here are some ideas to help you approach the alcoholic and have a productive conversation that will, if not immediately, help the addict realize sometime in the future that they need intervention:

  • Educate yourself. The more you know, the more you can sympathize with the addict and understand that they do not have a moral failing; rather, they are struggling with a chronic disease. This will allow you to be more patient and understanding, allowing for a more positive outcome.
  • Be non-judgmental. As a non-addict, you can’t understand how difficult it is to admit that you have a serious drinking problem. It may look obvious to you that your loved one has an alcoholism issue but know that it’s not all that obvious to the alcoholic.
  • Be firm. Remember that alcoholics will use every tool in their arsenal to deny the problem. They will blame, deny, dismiss, rationalize, and lie to protect themselves from the pain of reality. Ideally, have some concrete data on addiction and examples of your loved one’s behaviors to prove your point. Don’t waver- be prepared for the pushback, but stay firm in your convictions.
  • Be supportive. Assure your loved one that your goal is not to criticize them or cause them any pain. You will support the alcoholic so they can enter recovery and get their life back together again.
  • Be solution-oriented. Don’t harp too much on the problem. State your concerns clearly, and then, whether or not it is positively received, move on to the solution. Try to keep your emotions out of it, or the conversation can quickly spiral out of control. Explain to the alcoholic how recovery works and offer to help the addict look after their children, etc. while they enter recovery. 

Treatment for Alcoholism

An alcoholic must admit that they have an addiction that they are unable to control as a prerequisite to recovery. Once the alcoholic can recognize that, they can enter a rehab program to undergo medical detox if necessary and learn the tools to stay sober for the long term. At Avenues Recovery Center, our staff have helped thousands of alcoholics recover with our 24-hour care and sophisticated treatment programs. We use a mix of traditional and holistic therapies and personalized treatment plans to ensure optimal success. Our dedicated staff are highly experienced and treat every client with utmost care and respect. If you are looking for premier care and an understanding team, reach out today to help your loved one start the journey to recovery.

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