Denial in Addiction
Denial in addiction is a defense mechanism that those abusing
drugs or alcohol will need to overcome in order to kick their
habits. "Denial ain't just a
river in Egypt" is a mantra often heard at
12-step meetings. This is because Step 1 of the 12-steps deals
with overcoming denial and "admitting we are powerless
Denial is a defense mechanism.
Denial is particularly problematic because the downside of drinking
(or drugging) plus denial and driving can be fatal for the substance
abuser and others. Other health risks associated with addiction
include heart disease, lung and liver disease, overdosing and
It must be noted that denial is an unconscious defense mechanism
that is necessary for survival. None of us can survive our lives
without a certain amount of denial to keep us in balance. But,
with denial in regards to addiction, the denial is taken to an
extreme and becomes unhealthy in that it becomes an obstacle to
Why do people deny they
need help? There are many reasons for denial. One
reason is that people generally do not like to feel helpless and
out-of-control and this is particularly true for the addict. The
addict will blame everything and everyone except their own substance
abuse for their problems. Another reason is that the addict may
be using drugs or alcohol to cover up or numb unpleasant feelings
and by stripping away the denial (and drugs and alcohol), the
unpleasant feelings will come to the surface.
River in Egypt
While not all substance abusers have suffered past traumas
in their lives, an inordinate amount have. Child sexual or
physical abuse is common in the addicted population as are
other kinds of trauma such as those suffered in wartime, rape
or by other victims of violent crimes. Addicts may be using
drugs or alcohol to numb the uncomfortable feelings from post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) from past traumas which will eventually
need to be dealt with in order for full recovery to occur.
But, no matter what the
cause is of the denial, the important part is that
the addict confront the defense mechanism head on. This may be
by what some addicts describe as "hitting bottom" or
can come from confrontation with family, friends or through the
court systems. Many times an addict will lose a job, friends or
family relationships because of the addiction and start to face
the denial because their lives truly have become unmanageable.
Denial in addiction is not a linear course, either. The addict
may be in denial at some times, and facing reality at others,
so addiction in denial may be fluid especially in the beginning
stages of recovery. Even for those who are far along the recovery
path, falling off the wagon and denial can strike at any time
and will need to be overcome once again to get back on track.
Perhaps Linkin Park talked about confronting denial best in their
song "Breaking the Habit"
when they said, "I'll paint it on the walls, 'cause I'm the
one at fault" in acknowledgement that a habit is indeed a
personal disease for which one needs to take responsibility in
order to break free.