What To Do When An Addict is in Denial
12/10/19: AddictionDenial is the biggest roadblock to healing from addiction. It is true what they say: the first step to overcoming addiction is admitting that you have a problem. Without that, a person is essentially stuck in their ways. It may be so painfully obvious that this person needs help, and everyone but them can see it. When facing this denial from a loved one, it can feel extremely frustrating and hopeless. However, there are things that you can do in the meantime to help get this person to a point of admitting that they do need help: but a lot of it has to do with keeping yourself sane in the process.
What causes denial?Denial can stem from many places in an addict’s life. Most of it has to do with the fact that admitting that they have a problem means that they are also admitting that they need to change. Change is hard for most people, let alone someone who has been using drugs or alcohol to cope with immense pain. Giving the addiction up means having to deal with reality, which typically is not pleasant for someone who has been numbing their emotions and trying to escape their demons for months to years. These are some common reasons a person would remain in denial of their addiction issues: They believe they are in complete control. Often times, an addict believes that they have total control over their substance use. They have convinced themselves that they can quit at any time, but that their continued use is simply a choice that they’re making. But knowing what we know about addiction, we can see that it isn’t likely that they have nearly as much control as they would like to believe. They can use this as a denial tactic, telling concerned loved ones that there’s no way that they have a problem because they can quit, they just don’t want to. They don’t see that their addiction is harming anyone else. Most of the time, an addict sees their substance abuse as a personal choice that only affects themselves. They may also believe that no one notices or cares about them anyway, so even if they do have a problem, it wouldn’t cause harm to others. They might combat expressions of concern by saying things like “Why do you even care?” They are victimizing themselves. People struggling with substance abuse often try to justify it by believing that the whole world is against them, and therefore the only way to possibly cope is by using drugs and/or alcohol to get through the days. This mentality makes it easy for them to sustain their unhealthy lifestyle, as being within a victim mindset allows them to blame everyone and everything but themselves. When a person has no accountability, they have no reason to find it within themselves to make a change. They simply don’t care. Finally, an addict may just simply not care about what happens to them. They are going to do what they want to do, and no one can tell them otherwise. Unfortunately, this is the most difficult mindset to change, because you can’t force someone to care about themselves or others.
How does denial play out?If your loved one is in denial of their problem, there are a few things they will do to maintain this mindset:
- Turning the tables on those expressing concern, calling them delusional and misguided. This is otherwise known as gaslighting. This manipulation may begin to make you feel as though you are the one who is in the wrong, and coerce you into continuing to enable the addict.
- Constantly playing the victim card to garner sympathy.
- Accusing loved ones of being judgmental and cruel for insinuating that they have a problem.
- Blaming you or others for the issues that have been caused by their continued substance abuse.
- Denying that there is an addiction present at all.
- Downplaying harmful or damaging actions that they have been accused of.
- Becoming argumentative and hostile in efforts to shut down any conversation about their addiction.
How to help an addict out of the denial phaseYou may feel a sense of overwhelming panic as you watch your loved one quickly spiral, and consistently put themselves in harm’s way and at risk for overdosing. The fear that they may be putting their life at risk on a daily basis, yet continue to deny that they are in trouble can be soul-crushing. However, do not let this anxiety cloud your judgment. Being overly forceful or invasive can push the addict further and further into denial, making it even more difficult to reason with them. Here are some tips in dealing with a loved one who is in denial about their addiction:
- Recognize that they are not inherently bad at heart, they are just in the clutches of a bad disease.
- Though it may be difficult, try not to take anything they say personally. When having these tough conversations, they are likely going to say things that may hurt you. Just know that this is their addiction speaking, and it in no way reflects who you are as a person who is simply trying to do what is best for them.
- Be specific when you discuss the things that they have done that have caused direct harm to you or others. Specific incidents will provide concrete “evidence” that their actions do indeed have a negative effect on others.
- Avoid using blaming “you” language. For example, instead of saying something like “You hurt everyone around you when you lash out,” say “I feel hurt when I sense that you are upset or angry.”
- Bring up various areas of their life that the addiction has negatively impacted, such as family life, work, sports, hobbies, etc.
Staging an interventionOne of the “last-ditch” efforts you can make is staging an intervention. An intervention is a meticulously planned process in which family and friends of a person with an addiction gather at a pre-arranged date and time. They will then invite the addict to the gathering for the purpose of having a discussion about the consequences of their addiction. Usually, the addict does not know this is occurring until the moment they walk into the room. This is done in order to prevent them from avoiding the confrontation. Once everyone is settled, family and friends are encouraged to express their feelings and concerns surrounding the addict’s wellbeing. To learn more about how to stage an intervention, check out our recent article Staging an Intervention the Right Way.
Setting strict boundariesWhen all else fails, you must simply step away and let the addict fall. This is the most heart-wrenching action one can take when watching a loved one become a victim of their own choosing. However, continuing to provide the addicted person with a warm bed, meals, money, emotional support, etc will only enable them to continue to be comfortable with their lifestyle. The more “help” you provide, the worse off they will be. It sounds counterproductive, but oftentimes a person with an addiction must be allowed to hit rock bottom to realize that a change must be made. So what do you do to set boundaries? First, let them know that you are setting boundaries because you care, and because of this you will no longer do anything to support their habit. They most likely will not believe you. They will accuse you of giving up on them, for being cruel. This will be painful, but know that it is part of the process. Let them know that you will be there for them when they are ready to make a change and get clean, but not before that happens.
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