Casually saying that someone is “in denial” may be part of the modern vernacular, but it can have serious ramifications for those suffering from an addiction.
Although most people have a working definition for the word, Psychology Today refers to denial as “The cardinal symptom of addiction”.
They define it as someone who refuses to acknowledge the reality of their situation and will selectively ignore information that does not support their point of view.
Addicts are more often than not educated people who are rational, smart and someone you would not ordinarily call ignorant.
However; their addiction becomes a “blind spot” and is one place where common sense goes out the door. It is very important to acknowledge that addiction is NOT rational, it is a chronic disease and brain disorder which is often accompanied by compulsions and drives that are simply immune to sheer logic. While this self-deception may make an addict feel like they are in control, denial is a monumental roadblock that every addict must overcome before they can even begin the process of seeking help.
Here is a list of the most common things addicts do and say when they are in denial.
Justify Behavior as Stress Relief
Everybody has stress, but not everybody justifies their actions by needing to “relieve stress”. Addicts will use any excuse to satisfy their cravings.
Perhaps they had a hard day at work and need to blow off some steam, or they got passed over for a promotion and need to find some escapism, or they had something wonderful happen and just want to celebrate. For an addict, any occasion is a reason to use.
When your addiction becomes your only coping skill, your probably in trouble. Healthy well-balanced people have ups and downs and usually many different ways that they relieve stress, addicts get overly focused on one behavior or become overly dependent on a substance to the point that nothing else can bring them relief from life’s problems.
Judging Self & Others
One thing that addicts often do is compare themselves to others whose behavior is worse than theirs.
For example, a person may minimize their behavior by saying that they only smoke weed and but don’t do hard drugs, or say they only do prescription drugs, not street drugs, or think that they only watch porn, but they don’t hire prostitutes so they must be ok. They may feel better about themselves because they never lost a job or a relationship.
Often they surround themselves with people who also have an addiction and this normalizes their behavior. They can often point to people who are worse off than them and this allows them to stay in denial often for years on end.
This happens most often when an addict is trying to placate someone or make up for something they did when they were in the throes of their addiction. Whether conscious or subconscious, the behavior is often the same.
It often plays out as “surprise” gifts, trips or expensive jewelry. If they don’t have money to spend then they will maybe engage impromptu cleaning, running errands without being asked or cooking you breakfast in bed for no reason. On the work front, it shows up as volunteering, taking on extra projects or working overtime.
On the surface, this can seem harmless and even beneficial, but in reality, it is a sign that someone may be dealing with an addiction and are going out of the way to distract from the negative consequences of their behavior and have people focus on the good that they are doing. It is a way that the addict makes themselves feel better about themselves and stave off the guilt and self-remorse they may be feeling internally.
Another hallmark of addiction is isolating from family and friends who do not support the lifestyle you are engaged in. Over time as their addiction worsens, most addicts will stop listening to or hanging out with friends and family members who question their behavior.
The people who used to matter are replaced, blocked, ghosted or ignored. The addict often chalks it up to “growing apart”, “needing to move on” or “outgrowing” a relationship, but in reality, they are consciously or even subconsciously removing those who do not support their world view. When you get to this level, it is a clear sign that you active in denial of your addiction.
Lose Track of Time
Although this is most associated with the “blackouts” that alcoholics and drug addicts experience, yet it is also a hallmark for those with cyber, shopping and gambling addictions. Losing track of time happens when the addict is so engrossed in the process of planning, securing and actively engaging in their addictive behavior that everything else literally “falls away”.
The old adage that “time flies” is universally true for those who are actively experiencing their addiction, and the time that they engage in the behavior enviably increases over time. They will give up sleep, blow off important events or meetings and become fully engrossed in “chasing that high”’. This is a clear sign of lack of control and the addict will sincerely not be able to see the big picture and how it is changing over time.
It’s yet another clear indication of denial and they don’t think they are harming anyone. Addicts may struggle to see how their behavior is affecting the people around them. Sometimes it takes an organized intervention to open their eyes to the damage they are causing and get them they help they need.
Blaming Everyone Else
It’s common practice to play the victim and blame everyone else for the problems in your life even if you are not an addict, yet addicts take this to a whole new level.
Addicts in denial rarely take responsibility for their actions and make excuses for everything. Sometimes there are underlying issues of anxiety or depression that exacerbate the situation, but that is rarely the only reason. They convince themselves that they are not the problem and will often use negative consequences for their behavior as an excuse to go back and engage in the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
This can be a vicious cycle that repeats and compounds over time unless they can break the pattern and seek treatment.
Every addict makes promises to stop, both to themselves and to those around them. Breaking promises and making excuses are the hallmarks of addiction. The addict may be very sincere and have the best intentions, but it is their actions that speak louder than words.
Trust is fundamental to any relationship, whether in your personal or professional life, and addiction is a master at eroding one’s moral code. Denial also protects the addict from fully realizing the negative impact that their broken promises have on their lives in missed opportunities, and in the quality of their personal relationships. When letting people down becomes a habit instead of an occasional misunderstanding, it’s a good indication that addiction may be an underlying source of the problem.
It’s never easy to talk to someone about their addiction, especially when they are in denial, but it can be worth the effort. If you feel like you can see yourself in this article, or know someone who fits this profile, then please contact the professionals at The River Rehab for a free assessment and explore what options are available.