How can I tell if someone with an addiction is in denial?

May 25, 2023

Should I be worried or am I being paranoid? Loved ones of people with substance use disorder often find themselves doubting their intuition when it comes to addressing suspicious alcohol or drug behaviors. And the person with the disease makes it that much more difficult when they deny what’s going on and make you feel as if you’re turning a molehill of an issue into a mountain. Continue reading to learn what indicators substance abuse experts recommend you use to determine whether or not your loved one has a real problem.
Marta De la Cruz

Marta De la Cruz

Clinical Psychologist at Balance Luxury Rehab.

Using Justification as a Coping Mechanism

The first sign of someone being in denial about their addiction is that they always justify it by saying that it is a coping mechanism. Of course, they’ll have internal or external issues that lead to their addiction. But constantly blaming the situation is not an easy way out. No one gets anything easily, and wanting a perfect life is a farce.

The addiction can take a horrible toll on their mental health, and they will fully submit to it.This will gradually manifest itself into them completely denying that they even have an addiction. The reality is that addicts will never believe that they’re dependent on a certain substance. This is their way of escaping the truth of the situation.

However, it’s important to tell them that they can always reach out for help if such signs are evident. After all, their lives are at stake, and it’s better to stay safe than sorry in the future.

Minimization and Rationalization, Blame Shifting

Determining whether someone is in denial of their addiction can be a complex process that requires careful observation and analysis. Denial is a defense mechanism commonly seen in individuals struggling with addiction, as it allows them to avoid confronting the reality of their situation.

Here are some key indicators to help assess whether someone is in denial of their addiction: minimization, rationalization, blame shifting, anger, justification, lack of insight, or emotional disconnection.

Minimization and Rationalization
Individuals in denial often downplay the severity of their addiction. They may make excuses, rationalize their behavior, or minimize the negative consequences associated with their substance abuse. They might say things like, “I can quit whenever I want” or “It’s not that bad.”

Blame Shifting
Those in denial may shift blame onto external factors, such as stress, relationships, or work, rather than taking responsibility for their addictive behavior. They might attribute their substance use to these factors, avoiding personal accountability.

Defensiveness and Anger
When confronted about their addiction, individuals in denial may become defensive and react with anger. They might feel threatened by the possibility of having to face their problem, leading to defensive responses like denial, deflection, or aggression.

Justification and Bargaining
Denial can manifest as attempts to justify or bargain with themselves and others. They might make promises to cut down on their substance use, set limits, or negotiate conditions without genuine intent to change.

Lack of Insight
People in denial may have a limited awareness of the impact their addiction has on their lives and relationships. They may not recognize the pattern of negative consequences associated with their substance abuse or fail to connect their behavior with the problems they face.

Emotional Disconnection
Denial can be accompanied by emotional detachment or disconnection. Addicted individuals may suppress or avoid emotions related to their substance use, creating a barrier to self-reflection and acceptance.

Maintaining a Facade
Individuals in denial often work hard to maintain a public image that contradicts their addictive behavior. They may go to great lengths to hide evidence, make excuses for their actions, or maintain a false sense of control. It is essential to approach individuals with empathy and understanding when dealing with denial.

Encouraging open communication, offering support, and providing resources for addiction treatment can help them break through their denial and take the first steps toward recovery. Professional intervention and counseling can be invaluable in guiding individuals through the process of recognizing and accepting their addiction.

Haley Riddle, LPCA

Haley Riddle, LPCA

Licensed addiction counselor at MyndPsychiatry.
Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII

Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Executive Clinical Director at Gallus Detox.

Overly Defensive or Hostile when Confronted

One sign of someone being in denial is when they don’t take responsibility for their behavior and instead blame it on external factors such as stress, family issues, or other people. They may also make excuses for why they can’t stop the behavior or deny that it is even a problem in the first place. They may also be in denial of the severity of their problem and insist that they can quit on their own, even if they have tried and failed many times before.

Another signal is when they show signs of minimizing, rationalizing, or denying their pattern of behavior. They may claim that they only drink moderately or that drug use is not as bad as people say it is. They may also try to downplay the negative consequences, such as relationship issues, health concerns, or legal problems associated with their addiction. For them, their addiction may not be as serious or damaging as everyone else makes it out to be.

And lastly, someone may be in denial if they’re being overly defensive or hostile when confronted about their addiction. They may reject any kind of help or advice and become angry when others express concern for their wellbeing. This could be a sign that they are trying to protect themselves from the truth and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Negative Life Consequences, Avoidance Behaviors

1. Their addiction is causing problems in their life. Whether it be financially, professionally, legally, and/or emotionally. They may attempt to hide or deny the negative consequences of their addiction by using excuses or justification for why these issues are present in their life.

2. They minimize the problems their addiction causes in their life. They may try to downplay the consequences of their addiction or engage in avoidance behaviors such as not talking about it or avoiding topics related to their addiction.

3. They deny any attempts to help them quit or lessen their addiction. Instead of accepting offers of support for treatment programs, therapy sessions, or other forms of help they might need they will reject it outright and make excuses as to why these types of things won’t work for them.

4. They become angry when someone points out their addiction. When someone suggests that they have an addiction and should seek help for it, the person in denial may become defensive and angry. They will argue vehemently against any such suggestions.

5. They constantly deny having a problem. The person in denial of their addiction will often be unable to admit that they are struggling with an addiction issue, no matter how much evidence is presented before them. They will continually maintain that there is nothing wrong or that they can quit whenever they want to.

Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson

Clinical Director at Recovery Unplugged.

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