How Denial Affects Alcohol Addiction And How To Overcome It

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

Denial exists as a means to protect an addicted individual's access to the only coping mechanism they know - alcohol.

Denial manifests either as outright lying while being aware of the problem, or a more complicated version, where the individual deceives themself as well as others.

Overcoming alcoholic denial means recognising a problem exists, and reaching out for help.

Alcohol addiction is not talked about as much as the many other drug addictions that are rife in our society. However, denial around alcohol addiction is talked about even less, and the denial around this addiction is half the problem.

alcoholism

If you are in denial then you are trying to protect yourself from realising a very painful truth. While it may simply be too painful for you to realise, you should not get comfortable in denial as it can worsen the overall problem and keep you in the addiction.

So, how do you overcome not only alcohol addiction but also denial?

Alcoholism Denial

alcoholism denial

Being in denial when you suffer from alcohol addiction can be as simple as refusing to accept there is an issue at all. It is the result of you not identifying what you are feeling, or expressing your emotions even to yourself.

This is often the case when your feelings are complex or difficult. Many people will be afraid that they will be threatened, will lose friends or family, or they will lose control and security in their lives should they express how they feel.

It is almost ironic that what actually happens is the opposite, and these suppressed feelings end up taking the reins.

What Is Denial?

To start off, we need to understand what denial really is.

Denial is what happens when we do not identify our feelings, acknowledge them or pay attention to them. We, therefore, fail to express how we feel, and instead, we end up bottling those feelings up.

Sadly this is something that is all too common these days, and it results in many people seeking out vices as a way to cover up these bottled-up emotions. Alcohol is the most common, although many addictions are also the result of denial.

How Alcohol Actually Makes Denial Worse

Alcohol might be a popular way to deal with denial for many people, however, it tends to be the thing that makes the denial worse.

Denial is a symptom of alcohol use disorders, and it is one of the main things that will prevent the person from seeking help and getting better. It’s also common to realise that your friends and family are caught up in the same acts of denial – thinking their drinking experience is normal, or having wine after a bad day is acceptable.

It’s easy to pretend that the amount of but alcohol use disorders damage the brain. The damaging effects hinders your ability to digest your emotions, worsening your denial and distorting your insight regarding the problem in the first place.

Drug Abuse Vs Self Awareness

Chronic (long-term) drug abuse, including alcohol, has been looked into by doctors, and they have confirmed there is an association with impaired self-awareness. There is usually a dysfunction in the insular cortex, manifesting denial by itself, and denial of the severity of their addiction.

This also affects the person’s consideration for treatment. They literally do not think they need treatment because they do not think that their situation is bad. They don’t see it due to the lack of self-awareness.

Understanding Types Of Denial

understanding types of denial

Denial is not so simple though, there are many types of denial. It can manifest itself in different ways. It can even manifest itself in many ways in different situations.

So, denial for an addict is even more unique.

There are two foremost types of denial, let’s name them A and B for now.

Type A

First, we have ‘Type A’ denial, this type of denial is one that we may come across more often. In fact, we may as well call it outright ‘lying’.

This is because the person is aware – they see, they understand, and they know that they have a problem. However, when confronted with it, they deny it completely, knowing that they are being dishonest.

Denial in this form is straight-up dishonesty or lying. It tends to stem from concern over how they are viewed. Admitting to the problem often feels like a weakness, and so burying their heads in the sand allows the patient to reject the sense of fragility. It is not usually vindictive.

Type B

Type B denial is similar in some ways. In this case, they are somewhat blind or totally blind to the problem. Through many forms of rationalising it, justifying it, making excuses, and deceiving themselves, they can make themselves believe they do not have a serious problem.

Even when everyone else can see that there is a problem and that it is obvious, they do not see it because they have deceived themselves into believing there is no issue.

This comes from being dishonest or simply being blind, or maybe both.

Intellectual Denial

Being in intellectual denial is when a person does not have an accurate understanding. It can often come from having definitions, assumptions, or differing semantics to the truth of the matter.

Some people may believe that an alcoholic can only be someone who puts alcohol before their job, drinks all day, prioritises alcohol, and that a working person who pays the bills and has a family cannot be an alcoholic.

This can often be the case. We paint a picture through the media, through common stereotypes and assumptions, but lose the actual meaning. An alcoholic can be anyone, in any situation.

Spiritual Denial

Spiritual denial is one of the hardest to key into, it is also hard to deal with because it cannot be seen like the other types can. This level of denial locks a person into compliance blocking any possible way to be sober in a long-term situation.

It is pretty much using spiritual explanations to avoid or dismiss complex emotions and issues. This type of denial is hard to notice when you’re experiencing it. For many, ‘spiritual’ does not mean religious, it means a sense of deep-rooted belief – alcohol has become a truth of their life.

For alcohol to no longer be a truth in their life would mean having to completely unlearn all they know.

How To Recognise You Are In Denial

how to recognize you are in denial

You are probably here because you think you might be in denial. Having this realisation is a big step, so let’s keep the journey going by recognising what denial looks like.

Ask Yourself The Following Questions

Do You Have Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem is often related to denial. When we have low self-esteem we get fearful that if we admit that there is something wrong, or that we need help, people will think ill of us.

Often low self-esteem andanxiety (especially social anxiety) come hand in hand. The “anxious need” to have your friends like you, coupled with your low self-esteem telling you that you need to be liked, can easily make a formula of self-created peer pressure. So our first question is – do you view yourself as less or worry that others do? Do you drink to change that opinion?

What Are Your Feelings Towards Yourself?

Consider how you feel about yourself. If your feelings towards yourself are not positive, and you find yourself with very negative thoughts, you are suffering from low self-esteem. To combat this, your mind will push you towards denial about yourself and your life.

Why is this? When we have negative self-views, we tend to try and avoid gatherings. This lack of social interaction allows our minds to spiral further, which often becomes overwhelming. As the negative feelings continue we would rather stay disconnected than try to admit something’s wrong.

Eventually, this negative space feels comfortable.

Have You Withdrawn Yourself From Close Relationships?

If you are someone with alcohol addiction, and you are in denial, it is typical to isolate yourself. This is not to say that you do not want people around you, or that you do not want company, the addiction simply becomes more important.

On top of this, you are in denial and even if you do not know it, your subconscious knows it. In the back of your mind, you do not want others to see you. This is why it’s typical for addicts in denial to withdraw from close relationships.

Are You Having Trouble Dealing With Difficult Emotions?

are you having trouble dealing with difficult emotions

Difficult emotions can be any emotions that are negative (or positive) and take time to process, they are BIG feelings and can be hard to deal with. However, if you tend to turn to alcohol rather than deal with these emotions, that is a sign of alcohol addiction and denial.

If we turn to alcohol instead of dealing with our difficult emotions, then we are using the drink as a tool to reject and dismiss the problem.

Are You Lying About Your Alcohol Use?

If you find yourself lying about how much you consume alcohol, you should ask yourself why. Are you worried others will judge you? Why? If it was not an addiction then no one would judge.

Lying about something is a sure sign that whatever you are doing is wrong and potentially harmful. If you feel a need to lie about it, ask yourself why.

Has Someone Close To You Suggested You Are In Denial?

If someone you are close to has suggested that perhaps you are in denial, it is worth listening. While your brain is all jumbled from the alcohol, theirs will be seeing what you are not. You may naturally get defensive, that is part of the process. Your subscious doesn’t want you to look into the problem, and so will make you angry instead.

However, suggesting you are in denial is them trying to make you think about it. That may be why you are here. Outside opinions are always useful, they see what we don’t. Consider what they say.

Do You Compare Your Alcohol Use To Others?

Have you ever found yourself comparing how much you drink to others? “Oh, well at least I do not drink as much as that person.” or, “I can’t be an addict, addicts end up in rehab and lose their homes and use ALL their money on alcohol, I don’t.”

If you find yourself comparing your alcohol usage to others in order to feel better about your drinking, then this may be a sign that you are in denial. This is called justification and is just you trying to justify your use to yourself, so it doesn’t seem so bad.

Do You Blame Others For Your Problems?

Blaming others for our problems is called ‘projecting’ or ‘scapegoating’. Remember that low self-esteem? If we have low self-esteem, we do not want to admit anything is wrong with us, or that we did something wrong. We would rather someone else be at fault, even if it is our problem.

“I only drink because the kids stress me out”. The kids aren’t making you drink. Trying to shift the blame does not eliminate the problem.

Do You Rationalise Your Drinking Habits Often?

Have you ever heard someone say ‘I only drink because I am stressed’, or ‘ I drink to relax’? This would be rationalising, or an attempt to do so, making it sound like just a normal thing, or at least to them.

Rationalising is a method to make it seem normal or okay. Deep down we know it is not, and so we rationalise it to make it feel okay. Even if we are only rationalising to ourselves.

Are You Ashamed Of Your Alcohol Use?

If you feel a need to hide your alcohol use, lie about it, or if you get defensive when someone brings it up, this is a sign of shame.

Shame is one of the biggest issues we have, and shame will dig a deeper hole in your denial. Being ashamed is a sign that you are denying there is an issue, and you know it is not healthy, in one way or another.

How To Ask For Help

how to ask for help

Asking for help as an addict, especially where there is low self-esteem, shame, and denial involved is a scary thing to do, but it is worth it.

The first step is to accept it yourself. Being understanding, empathetic, and caring to yourself can be a hard hurdle to jump. But just as you give time and patience to your friends, you need to give yourself that same caring affection.

It is worth doing research (well done you’re here!), but it is also worth recording your thoughts and feelings in a journal about how you got to this place. It will paint you a picture and help you rationalise your healing process and move past the denial.

Remember to remind yourself that alcohol addiction is a long-term disorder of the brain, and it can even be called “substance use disorder”, this helps you to understand it better as we often conjure up stereotypes in our minds when we use the word ‘addict’.

Tell Your Closest Friends/ Family

Those who are closest to you will be your biggest supporters in your journey to recovery. Be they a family member or friend, they will likely be your own personal cheer squad as you try to move past this.

If you decide to tell them you have a substance use disorder, be aware they could react in many ways. It may be scary, but remember they are not judging you, they may just be worried about you.

Let them know you need their help to stick to your new goals.

Prepare For Their Reactions

Preparing yourself for how the people you tell will react is not easy, they may not react well, and they might have a negative reaction, shock, confusion, shame, or anger.

Just remember that this reaction is not a judgement upon you. For most people, negative reactions stem from concern for the person.

Create A Goal For Yourself

create a goal for yourself

Creating a goal to get past your addiction and avoid denial is useful as it serves as motivation. Motivation can prevent us from spilling into old habits.

When you talk to your friends and family about your addiction it is important to try and create a goal for yourself, as doing so will show that you do want to improve.

Remember that addiction is a medical condition and that addiction is not a weakness. It cannot be easily overcome by only willpower.

Goals can be anything that seems progressive to you. Ideally, you want your goal to be focused on recovering from the addiction.

Perhaps you want to overcome the addiction, so you can save money to travel, or so you can see friends and family more. Consider an end goal, something that you really, really want to keep you motivated on your journey to recovery.

Make it about you getting what YOU want in the end.

Talk About That Goal With Friends/Family

Once you have decided on the goal, and you have decided to speak to someone about your addiction, this is a good time to tell them your plans.

Telling someone else that you have a goal, and letting them know what your goal is will help you to stay motivated, they will keep you on track, and help you to keep your eye on the prize at the end of the road.

Having this ‘cheer squad’ is important, because there will be times when you fall off the wagon, and when that happens, you can easily slip into denial again. Your cheer squad will help you get back on the horse and remind you of your goals.

So, tell them about your aim, whatever it is, and ask them to help you reach it.

Prepare For Recovery

We won’t sugarcoat it, recovery is not going to be easy. Substances like alcohol are addictive for a reason, the way they make us feel, and the impact they have on us stimulates our brains, bodies and minds. You will want to have another drop of alcohol as you recover, but reject this thought as often as you can.

Part of preparing for recovery is managing your environment, and removing yourself from the ability to gain access to the substance. Perhaps have someone stay with you to prevent you from giving in to temptation.

Another thing to do in your preparation is to journal, as silly as it may sound, writing a journal and tracking yourself through your journey as you recover will help keep your head ‘in the game’. When you start to feel bad or want to give up, your journal will remind you of how far you have come.

How Rehabilitation Centres Help Addicts In Denial

how rehabilitation centers help addicts in denial

The thought of going to a rehabilitation centre might seem a bit overwhelming, it is like admitting your addiction in a very plain and obvious way. However, these places are made to help and not just in addiction recovery.

Rehabilitation centres will help you to craft healthy habits for yourself, and address the alcohol addiction at hand, but they do something even better too.

They will also help you to deal with whatever underlying issues there are that have led to your addiction, such as stress, anxiety, trauma, and mental health conditions.

Rehabilitation centres do not only rehabilitate you from your addiction but also the cause of your addiction, making you much less likely to ever end up back in the addiction.

How To Accept And Overcome Alcoholic Denial

how to accept and overcome alcoholic denial

Here is the hard part.

While rehabilitation can help you, talking to friends can help you, and having a therapist can help you, you have to do most of the work.

In fact, complete rehabilitation cannot be achieved if you cannot fully accept your story.

When you have been in denial for some time, it will be hard to accept the truth of the situation, but accepting it is a big part of your healing journey.

Give Yourself A Break

As we have said, this is a healing journey.

You are likely to be hard on yourself, otherwise, you probably would not have been in denial in the first place. You feel self-critical and judgmental of yourself for having gone through addiction.

However, most addictions are considered mental health issues. It is a brain disorder, so give yourself a break. Tell yourself that it is because of your brain, and you are capable of fixing this.

Understand how you feel about the addiction, and what about it makes you feel afraid. Write these things down if you can, so you can visually see how you feel. Writing things down, or drawing them, if you prefer, is a great way to process the difficult emotions that come with overcoming an addiction.

Don’t Be Afraid

One of the primary reasons that people are worried about, when it comes to seeking help is, actually very similar to why so many people who suffer from anxiety fear getting help.

This is the fear that nothing can be done to help you, that you are beyond help. Part of denial and addiction is usually connected to anxiety of some form, so this makes sense.

Just remember that your addiction can be helped, even if you feel like you are too far gone, you are not. Remind yourself every day that your addiction can be helped.

The more you tell yourself this, the more you will believe it and you will be able to get past it. Train your mind to believe you can do this, and it will feel much easier.

Change Your Thoughts And Beliefs Towards Your Addiction

On that topic, how we think will influence how successful we are in our tasks. If we believe that we will fail, we are much more likely to do so, because we have influenced ourselves into thinking so.

So, when it comes to you overcoming your addiction, tell yourself that you can do it. Every day, wake up, look in the mirror and say, “I will conquer this addiction”, continue to do so until you believe it, and then keep doing so until you don’t need to anymore.

The way in which we think will influence how we do things, this is part of why the addiction is there in the first place. So train your mind, and push your thoughts towards success against addiction.

Write Down Your Thoughts And Feelings Daily

Remember that journal – you need it. Create a habit of writing in it. Write down how you feel and what you think, every day. This will help you to find the underlying causes of the addiction as well as help you get through it.

You might not feel comfortable talking to people about what you are going through in-depth, but a journal cannot tell anyone, and you can release your pent-up thoughts and feelings onto paper.

It is a form of release, one that will also help you to track your progress and keep you motivated, as well as one that will help you to unravel some of the things that have held you back from understanding yourself.

Talk It Out

Once you find yourself comfortable journaling you may want to open up to someone, a friend, family member, or even a therapist.

Talking about the things you feel is extremely useful. While writing them down can be a great way to release, sometimes we just want to feel heard and have someone listen.

If trauma and childhood abuse is something that has led to addiction, having someone listen can actually be a hugely important part of the healing process and being able to recover.

Talk about your struggle with addiction, how it made you feel, and how you feel now. It’s time to release those bottled-up feelings.

Talking things out can help, and vocalising them releases these feelings into the world, so they are no longer inside you, weighing you down.

Join A Support Group If Needed

If you are struggling with coming to terms with your addiction and overcoming it, support groups can be very helpful. Being surrounded by people who are all in the same place, going through the same thing, can help you to see you are not alone.

Loneliness is often something that makes things harder, and if we do not feel safe to share our addiction and recovery with friends and family, having a support group can give us that cheer squad that we need in this time.

You can say ‘I have not had a drink in a week’ and get a round of applause. They can motivate you. And even if you do have support from friends and family, extra support is not a bad thing at all!

Surround Yourself With Understanding People

The most important thing, however, is to surround yourself with understanding and positive people. If people criticise you, judge you, or put you down for being a victim of addiction, then you can easily slip back into old habits, because it gives you that ‘comfortable’ feeling.

As you go through your journey of coming out of denial and overcoming alcohol addiction, keep people who are judgmental at arm’s length.

Alcohol addiction is not something to be judged, it is a genuine and very real brain disorder that can affect all aspects of life, and as you recover you need a cheer squad behind you to cheer you on, not negativity bringing you down.

If you struggle to find people who are understanding, seek out local groups, online groups, and contact AA companies or mental health charities to find the support you need.

Denial is a massive part of alcohol addiction, in fact, alcohol addiction always exists with some form of denial in its tow. Realising you are in denial is the first step to overcoming addiction.

If you are suffering from alcohol addiction or any other form of addiction, remember it is you that must start the healing process by realising you have been in denial about your addiction. As you do this, surround yourself with understanding and support.

It is 100% possible to overcome addiction, no matter how in denial you are. It’s time to get your life back on track.

Last Updated: June 30, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.