addiction treatment

Addiction Denial

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Many addicts have a hard time admitting that they have an addiction problem. There are many reasons why addicts may be in denial of their situation. Denial is so common that it has been recognized as one of the beginning stages of recovery.

Denial is both a conscious and subconscious action. On a conscious level, the addict may purposely ignore the negative effects of addiction on his life and the lives of those around him. On a subconscious level, the brain protects the addict from emotional pain by repressing memories, rationalizing unhealthy behaviors, and engaging in other destructive mechanisms that support denial.

If you or someone you love may have an addiction and is in denial of it, read on to discover why addicts deny their addiction problem, the stages of addiction denial, and how to help an addict in denial find recovery. As a loved one of an addict, denial is painful, but know that things can change, and the addict will most likely admit defeat over their addiction eventually.

Denial in Addiction:

For healthy family members and friends of an addict, denial is frustrating. It may seem obvious that the addict has a serious problem, but the addict refuses to accept it. It may also be invalidating the suffering of the spouse and close loved ones of an addict. Here are some symptoms that may indicate that a loved one is an addict in denial:

  • They claim they are in control of themselves and can stop using the substance whenever they want.
  • They blame substance use on loved ones or outside circumstances, such as stress at work, etc.
  • They insist they are just using the substance recreationally, like every other person who uses the substance occasionally and isn’t addicted.
  • They become excessively defensive when the substance or addiction is spoken about.
  • They have different- sometimes plausible- excuses every time they get drunk or high.
  • They employ manipulative tactics like playing victim or gaslighting to make you doubt yourself. 

Steps of Addiction Denial:

Addiction recovery encompasses various stages, until the addict is finally ready to take action to become sober. The good news is that the first stage of recovery is denial, so instead of viewing it as just an obstacle to sobriety, remember that it’s the first stage in the process. Here are the stages of recovery:

  1. Pre-contemplation- At this point, the addict is in denial. They refuse to acknowledge that they may have an addiction that requires professional intervention. Addicts who have attempted sobriety but failed may enter this stage and decide that recovery doesn’t work for them.
  2. Contemplation- During this stage, the addict starts to understand that there may be a problem. They recognize some of the effects that their addiction has on themselves and those around them and are prepared to admit that they need a solution, even if they aren’t ready to act on it yet.
  3. Preparation- The addict takes steps towards sobriety, like seeing a therapist or inquiring about rehab facilities for addiction recovery. During this stage, they may attempt to white-knuckle sobriety and may even be successful for a few days, but it will most likely not be long-lasting.
  4. Action- This stage is active recovery- the addict is committed to change. The addict will enroll in an in-patient residential treatment program or outpatient rehab , attend 12-step meetings, and learn how to stay sober.
  5. Maintenance- The addict takes action to maintain sobriety and a lifestyle that supports it. They will uphold a healthy sleep schedule, exercise regularly, attend therapy sessions, etc., to ensure sobriety for the long term. Addicts typically enter this stage after a few years of sobriety.

If you identify a loved one in the precontemplation stage, remember that people always evolve. Most addicts go through the recovery cycle at some point, graduating from denial to a willingness to pursue sobriety.

Causes of Addiction Denial:

Some addicts are cognizant of the fact that they are addicts and choose to blatantly lie about it, either to protect themselves from perceived threats or so that they are not forced to take responsibility for their problem and take the appropriate action toward recovery. Others suspect they may have an issue but cannot find the courage to make bold moves towards sobriety, so they deny the severity of the addiction.

Although this may be true for some addicts, the vast majority deny their addiction subconsciously. They are genuinely unaware of the fact that they are addicts and fail to see how their behaviors affect those around them. The brain protects the addict from emotional pain by distorting events, rationalizing actions, and dismissing reality instead of presenting the facts on the ground.

In this case, the addict is in so much emotional distress that they cannot see reality. They may have experienced trauma that led to addiction, which causes them to repress the memory of the traumatic events. This, in turn, distorts the facts of addiction for the addict, preventing them from admitting they need help.

How to Help an Addict in Denial: 

As the loved one of an addict in denial, you may be wondering how to talk to an addict in denial and speed up the process of recovery. The reality is that recovery is impossible until the addict decides on their own that they want to change and get sober. As an addict, you must be honest with yourself and admit that you have no control over your addiction to begin the recovery process.

You may feel frustrated, helpless, and even angry at the addict. These feelings are normal, but they can be worked on by attending one-on-one and group therapies, as well as Al-anon and 12-step groups intended for family members of addicts. There is also a place for intervention by family and friends, depending on the circumstances of the addict and the addiction. Reach out to a mental health professional for guidance on staging an intervention.


At Avenues Recovery Center, we have incredible staff who help every patient undergo medical detox and maintain sobriety. As soon as your loved one is ready to reach out for help to get sober, don’t hesitate to contact us, and we will help you help your loved one. Our highly professional team uses a mix of traditional and holistic therapies as well as personalized treatment plans to ensure optimal success. We have helped thousands of people overcome their addiction and reach real and lasting recovery, and we can help you too. If you or your loved one is serious about addiction recovery, reach out to us today so that we can begin your journey towards the happy, healthy and sober future you deserve.

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