According to Merriam Webster dictionary, denial is defined as, “a defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.” There is also, in denial, refusing to admit the truth or reality of something unpleasant.
Denial is a primary component related to addiction. Experts in the substance abuse field classify denial into two categories. The first is Type A Denial and the second is Type B Denial.
A well-known quote in the industry regarding this was one by American professor David Foster Wallace. It read:
“[The] little-mentioned paradox of substance addiction is: once you are sufficiently enslaved by a substance to need to quit the substance in order to save your life, the enslaving substance has become so deeply important to you that you will all but lose your mind when it is taken away from you.” -David Foster Wallace
That quote, in itself, describes the components of drug abuse as they specifically relate to denial.
Two Types of Addiction-Related Denial
As mentioned above, there are two primary types of addiction-related denial.
In Type A Denial, a person will be aware of their substance abuse problem. But, when confronted about it they will vehemently deny it. This is why Type A Denial is classified as lying or outright dishonesty.
Type B Denial is when a person is blind or unaware of the problem. He or she may justify or rationalize why it is okay to abuse drugs or alcohol. Or, the individual may, through self-deception, make excuses as to why their use is not a problem. Type B Denial is also called, “honesty being dishonest.”
The Science Behind Denial
So why do we deny? According to Wikipedia, denial occurs when a person sees something about himself or another and rejects it, asserting that it is not true. Denial is an innate human function of the mind. It allows individuals to put away information that may be harmful or threatening to them. By denying that something is, individuals, protect themselves from what that information could mean to them. Starting in the days of Copernicus and Galileo, people have denied existences and information that were too new and uncomfortable. People simply could not believe that the sun was at the center of our universe. And still today, the same level of denial, even of scientifically proven facts, is prevalent. This especially applies to addiction. Admitting addiction is saying that one is weaker than the substance being abused.
12 Step Approaches & Denial
In Twelve Step or Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous programs denial is a major factor. This is based on steps 1, 4, 5 8 and 10. According to this approach, denial, on part of the addict, will enable them to continue drug abuse. Even with evidence that the behavior is a problem, denial will feed the compulsion.
However, there is also the denial of a family member or loved one who is trying to cope with another person’s addiction. The term for this is enablers. They often do not want to see the problem but make the problem worse because they enable, or allow the person to commit harmful acts.
Denial Defense Mechanisms
Where there is denial, there are also denial defense mechanisms. Drug users see themselves as having their substance abuse under control. They think that they only do the drug because they want to do it for fun or stress relief. They say they can stop whenever they want. That is when the defense mechanisms of denial start to rear their ugly heads.
Denial defense mechanisms include:
- Simple denial – This is when the individual says or believes the problem I not happening. “Not me,” in essence. This first step is exactly as it sounds. The person may think something like "Oh I have heard of those people who get 'addicted' to drugs or alcohol, but not me. I can stop whenever I want."
- Minimizing – An example of this would be: “Well, it’s really not that big of a deal.” This step refers to making light of a serious situation so as to not confront the severity of the problem.
- Rationalizing - Creating excuses. This step has the person making up the reason why it is OK that they are abusing substances.
- Blaming - Finding fault in everything. In this step, the person finds themselves placing the blame of why they have a problem onto other people and even situations or things.
- Diversion - Avoidance of the actual problem. In this step, the person would try to change the subject or simply not talk to anyone who they know would have something to say about their addiction.
- Intellectualizing - Finding 'logical' reasoning for the problem while remaining emotionally unattached. This step, in some ways, also places the blame, or fault, on some problem or situation, allowing the person to not take responsibility for the addiction.
- Hostility - Making the first attempt at being talked to so unpleasant, that the people who are trying to help do not bring up the subject again. This is one of the last desperate attempts at keeping a blind eye.
After these steps of denial have run their course, a person may be ready to face the problem. Many families are torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. Denial is always at the forefront of the problem because everyone wants to believe and feel like they are in control. Once they realize that they are in fact, not in control of their addiction, then they have moved past denial and are ready to start their recovery.
Coping with Denial Related Addiction
If a person is in denial, you ask some of the following questions.
- How do you talk to a person with a drug problem?
- How can you help a drug addict who is in denial and doesn't want help?
- How can you get a person to go to rehab who doesn't even think they have a problem?
There are some possible answers that could pertain to all of these questions:
The first step is getting educated on addiction. After, this creating a plan can be helpful. But, the third and most helpful piece of advice is to reach out to a professional counselor to guide you through the process. An addiction expert can put you in touch with intervention resources who are specifically trained to handle elements of denial related to addiction.
A counselor can also find a rehab that is best suited for their individual needs.
There are many obstacles on the path to overcoming addiction and denial is a primary one. Knowing what to look for and seeing the signs of denial, will allow one to either spot the problem in oneself or help someone else. Like all obstacles, overcoming denial will take patience and time. And, with the help of an addiction professional, this problem can be overcome.