Addiction Mentality: Understanding Denial and Delusion

Denial or delusion about substance abuse?

If you’ve never had to deal with addiction, it might be hard to imagine how or why you would justify your actions. With the way substance abuse is portrayed in the media, how could someone convince themselves they’re fine when their world is crumbling all around them? Yet, many addicts find themselves believing their own lies and delusions based on the fact that their perception of addiction is vastly different from their personal scenario.

Addiction comes in many shapes and forms, all of which can lead to deadly consequences if they are not confronted, so it is useful to understand the potential thought process of a loved one falling deeper into the addiction cycle. They might be in severe, honest denial and instead of antagonizing them, it would be better to understand why.

By listening to what a substance abuser says when approached about their addiction, a concerned person can get better insight into their loved one’s insecurities and the potential core of the problem.

Denial as a Sincere Delusion

Denial can be defined as a refusal to admit the truth or reality and normally used as a coping method to avoid reality and protect the ego. Denial is a defense mechanism substance abusers use when they want to reject aspects of their reality that they are not comfortable with; and depending on the severity of the addiction, the level of denial can be a severe mental barrier to break through.

There is a reason the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Denial can be such a large factor of addiction that the person in question might not even realize they have a problem. Logic and reasoning tends to get impaired by irrational conclusions, allowing an addict to believe that their situation doesn’t fall into the addiction category. Common misconceptions about addiction also factor into denial, particularly for substance abusers who are incredibly high-functioning and financially better off.

It all comes down to the fact that the perception of Self is skewed by addiction, which is why more often than not, a substance abuser can only get over their denial by reaching a bottom, usually a traumatic experience for the user that illuminates their reality into black and white terms.

Not every bottom has to be rock bottom, though—and you should try your best to avoid that as it can be dangerous to reach that point, potentially leading to death. Some people get their act together at the first sign of trouble and some people need a few more pushes, but recognizing the root of a substance abuser’s reasoning to use drugs and/or alcohol can help you help them face reality.

Types of Denial

Denial can be categorized into two main definitions.

Type 1 Denial is when the person inherently knows they have problem and have acknowledged this fact to themselves at some point, but upon being confronted about it by others, they will flat out deny it. They are actively lying about it to avoid having to resolve their own issues, choosing instead to live in denial that their reality is “that bad.”

Type 2 Denial is when a person is partially or totally blind to their situation. In some way, they have managed to rationalize, justify, or deceive themselves into believing there is a logical explanation for their reality that is beyond addiction. At no point are they lying because they honestly believe they do not have a problem—if there are any issues in their lives, it is all caused by outside forces.

Within these two categories, denial can manifest itself in various ways. Identifying denial may not be hard to notice, but knowing how to interpret it is another matter. By analyzing the responses a person gives when triggered about their addiction can be the first clue on how to properly discuss their issues.

Some common responses to keep note of are:

  • Absolute Denial: I don’t have any problems!
    This will generally be the first response by most substance abusers. Don’t let this deter you from having a discussion about their addiction, unless they are becoming violent and a danger to either yourself or themselves. It’s customary that an addict will be uncomfortable being confronted about their life choices, so be careful not to present your concerns as if to say they are a burden in your life. Avoid as much blame as possible. Attempt to understand them and the root of their addiction. From there you can begin finding solutions.
  • Avoidance: Can we talk about something else?
    This type of response is delicate and can be incredibly frustrating to deal with. Some users choose to avoid their issues as if they didn’t exist and when being confronted about it, they’d rather talk about literally anything else than their addiction. Their responses can be very curt and you might run into the issue that they’ll say anything you want to hear—like agreeing to get treatment—so you’ll stop talking about it. Whether being persistent about the issue will be effective depends on the person. Some people will shut down or act out; others might listen. Sometimes asking why they are scared to talk about their issues can shed light, but it requires patience and understanding.
  • Minimizing: My problems aren’t that bad.
    Some users might acknowledge that they might have a problem, but that it isn’t as severe as it could be. A common excuse would be an alcoholic who only drinks on the weekends when they go out partying, forgetting that they do this every weekend until they’re black-out drunk or they get violent or make poor judgements under the influence, such as driving while intoxicated. The point of addiction is not how much you do it, but why. If you can’t do certain actions without substances, there’s an issue at hand.
  • Rationalizing: I have reasons why I drink/do drugs!
    Oftentimes if an abuser acknowledges their problem for what it is, they’ll have reasons for why they drink and/or do drugs. Their deluded logic becomes such an obvious answer to them that they won’t even question it. For example, if they wake up in the morning feeling awful and only their substance of choice can make them feel not awful, then that’s why they drink/do drugs. It might not occur to them that they are experiencing the first stages of withdrawal symptoms in the morning and that if they attempted to detox themselves, they wouldn’t have to feel awful every morning.
  • Blaming: I wouldn’t have this problem if it weren’t for X!
    Other abuses will immediately blame life and people that cause stress in their lives. They might blame relationships with partners, family members, or friends are too much of a burden on them. They might blame their boss and/or their work environment and assert that their substances are used to “relax.” They might be generally unhappy with their life and throw you in as part of “their problem,” so be careful not to take this to heart. Part of their anger lies in their addiction and self-hatred and you might be the only person who can show them the world isn’t always against them.
  • Comparing: I can’t be an addict if my life isn’t in shambles!
    Not all addicts have the same sob story. There are plenty of high-functioning addicts who can maintain a successful job, a lavish lifestyle, and still be killing themselves with their substances. Celebrities do it all the time, for instance. But even on a smaller scale, some addicts might think that if they’re not homeless or shooting heroin in the back alley of the ghetto, then they’re not addicts. They might not realize their addiction is getting in the way of their relationships and finances because they’re not rock-bottom level. Sometimes it’s takes someone from the outside to show them that their habits are a slippery slope to worse conditions.

Confronting Addiction

Relationships can be delicate when handling the topic of addiction with substance abusers. If you decide to confront your loved one about your concerns for them, know that your main tools going into the discussion are patience and understanding. It won’t be a walk in the park and the threat of losing them over a heated debate is real, but try to convey your intentions for their safety as best as you can while reminding them that you care.

Stronger actions might be necessary in trying to confront an addict’s denial. The first point of action is to stop enabling their addictions in every way you can. This could mean cutting them off financially, refusing to interact with them while they’re intoxicated, or stopping all favors. You could suggest they keep a journal of how often they drink or take drugs, which might serve as a wake-up call when they notice the severity of their habits on paper.

Another more extreme step would be to organize and hold an intervention for the substance abuser. It would be best that you all rehearse what you would say to the concerned party as to avoid as much conflict as possible and so that you create a support circle instead of an ambush for the substance abuser. Interventions tend to fail upon first impressions because of their nature (most people don’t like being surprised with a litany of things they’re doing wrong in their life), but they are proven effective in reaching an addict, even if not immediately. An intervention is regarded as a bottom for many addicts and is noted as the point at which they realized something was wrong.

However you go about confronting your loved one’s denial for their addiction, remember that you are doing it for the safety of their life. The first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem, but sometimes people need a little help realizing it.

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