Every addict has major obstacles to overcome when they first get help for their substance abuse problems. Each person in recovery has different levels of self-deception and denial that may hold them back from making progress if they don’t get rid of these habits. Denial is one of the strongest defense mechanisms that addicts have in order to allow themselves to continue abusing drugs or alcohol without experiencing guilt or realizing they need to change.
This type of self-deception is not a conscious process but something that their addicted brain has developed to avoid responsibility for their actions. One of the first steps in recovery is moving past denial and accepting reality. It can be difficult at first to face the truth of your own addiction but in the end it will lead to clarity and awareness that will only help you build a sober lifestyle.
Denial as a Defense Mechanism
What is denial and how does it affect an addict? Denial is a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem. Denial is typically an unconscious mechanism that the mind uses to reduce anxiety, fear or other overwhelming emotions. On a primal level, defense mechanisms like denial are meant to be healthy because they allow us to function in spite of fears and dangers from the outside world.
Denial in the context of addiction however, is an unhealthy mechanism that prevents people from realizing the full extent of their own addictive behavior. Self-deception is damaging because it serves to reject reality and allows the individual to avoid changing their behavior. Addicts will do anything to be able to continue their substance abuse and in some ways they are not conscious of how much they are minimizing their own problem. Their denial makes it okay for them to keep drinking or using drugs because they truly believe they are not addicted.
Lying to Yourself and Others through Denial
Self-deception and denial in the case of addiction can be considered a type of lying in some cases. There is a saying in recovery groups that denial stands for “don’t even know I’m always lying (to myself)”. Addicts may constantly be lying to others and themselves without even realizing that they are doing it. Deception becomes second nature to them because it keeps them safe and free from any interference that would affect their substance abuse.
Alcoholics are always aware that they drink but they may be in denial about the consequences of their drinking and how it is affecting their lives. Deep down addicts know that they abuse substances heavily but they block out their feelings regarding their habits. It can become clear that an addict is lying to themselves when they are confronted about their behavior and their immediate reaction is to become angry. The anger reveals that in some sense they understand that the person is right but their denial is so strong they cannot accept reality. In this way they are lying to themselves and others about their problem.
Even though defense mechanisms like denial are meant to help us survive in the face of fears and anxieties, they can be dangerous and harmful for people with addictions. It can take time for addicts to overcome their habit of self-deception but the more they become honest with themselves the easier it will be to accept reality. At some point, many addicts hit “rock bottom” a point at which they can no longer live in denial because they start to become aware of the negative consequences of their substance abuse. Eventually, people in recovery move past denial and create a habit of honesty to themselves and those around them.