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What is Drug and Alcohol Denial?

Picture showing the common signs of denial

Acceptance is essential for acknowledging and comprehending reality, initiating change, and planning for the future. When we are in a condition of contentment, acceptance comes naturally. However, when we are in pain, acceptance can be far more challenging, and we may enter a state of denial.

People find it difficult to comprehend why loved ones with alcohol dependence or drug addiction wait so long to undergo alcohol and drug treatment. This is primarily due to the denial of reality. Alcoholics and drug addicts do not perceive the severity of their situation.

What is Denial?

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes denial as a “defense mechanism” that aims to ignore anxious or upsetting thoughts or feelings. When it is challenging to accept information about oneself or the world, denial can be used to distort or minimize the truth, keeping the addict away from facing reality.

When a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is in denial, it does not indicate that they are incapable of recognizing their substance abuse. They may view drugs and alcohol as a means to escape their troubles.

Dealing with a difficult or distressing event can sometimes be aided temporarily by denial. However, remaining in denial is detrimental since it hinders you from getting help or addressing the problem.

Forms of Addiction Denial

Reality is opposed, refuted, challenged, and distorted by denial and also a coping mechanism. This typically fear-based state of mind permits you to procrastinate facing reality. Instead of addressing how and why you abuse drugs and alcohol, denial might force you to misrepresent the truth about your substance abuse. You may seek to ignore your substance misuse to escape shame, guilt, criticism, and self-judgment by doing the following.


When you try to act as if your drug and alcohol use is exaggerated, you minimize your addiction. You may say, “It’s not that bad,” or “other people drink or use drugs far more than I do.”


Justifying substance abuse generally resembles justification of acts. You may say you’re stressed or only drinking because life has been difficult. You might also attempt to rationalize your drink and drug usage by claiming you need “a little help getting through this.” Sometimes rationalizing involves drinking alcohol because you believe you have “earned” it by working hard.


Self-deception can be challenging, but a common sign is constantly convincing yourself that your substance abuse is not that awful or severe, despite substantial evidence.

While denial is a typical stress response, it may be a dangerous habit to ignore reality. Whether you prefer to minimize, explain, or convince yourself that everything is alright when it is not, denial keeps you from confronting the truth of your situation. 

Instead of seeking treatment for substance misuse, denial supports continued addictive behaviors. Unfortunately, this pattern of conduct can lead to strained relationships, financial difficulty, legal trouble, and a variety of physical and mental health problems.

How to Recognize Denial?

It might be challenging to know whether one is in denial. If someone you respect has suggested that you are, take a step back and assess the matter. Think honestly and objectively about all the roles alcohol and drugs have in your life.

Evaluate whether you consider your drinking and drug usage in the following ways:

  • Your blame other people for your problems. (“I wouldn’t be who I am now if my parents hadn’t ____ .” Or “I wouldn’t need to drink as much if my job weren’t so stressful.”)
  • Since you can still handle your obligations, you downplay the impact drugs or alcohol have on your life. “I always finish my work, even if I occasionally oversleep after a night of drinking.”
  • You compare your drug or alcohol use with others. “I don’t do as much as other people.”
  • You justify having a drink by saying that you deserve it since you had a long day, completed a difficult assignment, need to unwind, etc.

If you have had similar thoughts as those above, you may want to discuss your behaviors with a trusted friend or therapist. They can assist you in recognizing and overcoming denial, improving your habits, and getting professional help for a substance use disorder (SUD).

How to Get Past Denial?

Unfortunately, the process of overcoming denial is not simple. It is often believed that addicts need to “hit rock bottom” before they can deal with the truth of their issues. This allowed the individual to accept the problem, seek assistance, and move on. However, we now know that we can intervene before the individual enters this condition of dependency.

There are other ways to resolve the denial by stressing reality, such as:

  • A therapist for substance abuse can assist individuals in addressing their difficulties.
  • Keeping a notebook on addictive habits, such as writing down the number of drinks consumed daily or the amount of money spent at the casino, can provide concrete evidence of the severity of the problem.
  • Consequences of addiction, such as the depletion of a bank account, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job, can be a huge wake-up call.
  • Many people are unaware they are addicted, but reading educational materials on various addictions may detect specific addiction patterns.

People might use denial as an effective coping method to excuse or rationalize their addiction. This state can vary in duration; for some, it may last only a few weeks. Others may require months or even years. As long as this condition remains, treatment cannot commence in earnest and often end in relapse.

With counseling and medical support, a person with an addiction can begin to accept reality and take the first crucial steps toward a full recovery.

Helping a Loved One In Denial About Their Addiction

If your loved one is in denial about their alcohol or drug abuse problem, one of the most crucial things you can do is to quit enabling their behavior. 

Give thought to your feelings and amount of denial around their disease. Are you willing to acknowledge that your loved one may have an addiction problem? If you do not, you may be excusing or justifying their addiction, adding to their denial.

Below are more ways to assist someone in denial regarding substance abuse disorder:

  • Do not attack or attempt to compel them to accept their addiction. Instead, convey your worries with empathy. Make the person aware of your concern for them. Tell them that you wish for their happiness and good health. Reflect on their responses rather than fighting with them. Try to view the situation from their perspective.
  • Medically trained professionals can assist individuals with substance use disorder to overcome their uncertainties and denial regarding their disease. People with SUD may be more receptive to hearing an outsider or professional tackle their denial than a loved one.
  • Keep in mind that substance use disorder is a severe illness. You do not bear the sole duty of helping your loved one. Ensure that you engage in good self-care.
Denial is a defense mechanism that aims to ignore anxious or upsetting thoughts or feelings often employed by people suffering with substance use disorders

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean if a drug addict is in denial?

Denial is another way of ignoring issues. When a person with substance use or alcohol use disorder is in denial, it does not imply that they cannot see their substance abuse. They may view drugs and alcohol as a means to escape their troubles.

Is denial a characteristic of addiction?

Addiction’s defining characteristic is denial. Every individual with a substance abuse issue has been in denial for some time. It is the primary reason alcohol and drug abuse issues continue and remain untreated, wreaking havoc on addicts and their loved ones.

How many types of denial are there?

There are three types of denial:
When someone rejects that anything unpleasant is happening, they are engaging in simple denial. For example, a person with terminal cancer may deny that they will die.
People participate in minimization denial when they acknowledge an unpleasant reality but dismiss its gravity. For example, a person going to get a divorce may dismiss the divorce as unimportant.
When a person recognizes the importance and actuality of an unpleasant situation but places the responsibility on someone else, projection denial occurs. For instance, a cancer patient may claim that their physician is giving ineffective treatment and that a different doctor may provide a different outcome.

Are alcoholics unaware of their problems or in denial?

Some are in denial, and some are not. Some alcoholics know that their drinking has badly impacted their life and the lives of their loved ones, yet they cannot quit drinking. Their regret and shame over their drinking ironically encourage them to drink even more.
Moreover, some alcoholics are aware that they are alcoholics, confess it, and recognize that they cannot quit without the assistance of a higher power and the support of other alcoholics; these alcoholics are in recovery.

The Haven Detox Can Help You Escape Addiction Denial

At The Haven Detox, we know how powerful and dangerous denial can be during an addiction. Ignoring the truth about addiction can result in disease, interpersonal issues, mental health illnesses, and socioeconomic difficulties. 

Fortunately, our treatment programs can assist you in overcoming denial, healing old traumas, overcoming addiction, and living a life that is sober, empowered, and prosperous.

Don’t allow denial to prevent you from receiving necessary help. If you’re ready to conquer denial and change your life, contact us at (561) 328-8627 to learn more about our services.

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