Misusing addictive substances can cause you to live in denial. This refusal to accept reality can take the form of lying about addictive habits, ignoring consequences, minimizing family and friends’ concerns for your health, or rationalizing your alcohol and drug use. Even though most people have difficulty accepting the reality of their circumstances at some point in their lives, denial is a powerful state of mind that can prevent you from getting the help you need. Fortunately, you can overcome denial by learning to accept reality head-on. Coming face to face with reality can help you heal past wounds, reframe negative thoughts, change harmful behavior patterns, and overcome addiction.
Forms of Denial in Addiction
Denial opposes, refutes, challenges, and distorts reality. But denial is also a coping mechanism. This state of mind, which is usually based in fear, allows you to delay facing the truth. Instead of admitting how and why you misuse drugs and alcohol, denial can cause you to distort the reality of your misuse. To avoid shame, guilt, criticism, and self-judgment, you may attempt to deny your substance abuse by:
- Minimizing or making light of your situation. You minimize your addiction when you try to act like your drug and alcohol use is being blown out of proportion. You may say things like “it’s not that bad” or “other people drink/use drugs way more than I do.”
- Rationalizing or making excuses. Rationalizing your substance use typically looks like justifying your actions. You might say that you’re stressed or imply that you’re only drinking because you’ve been having a tough time. You can also attempt to justify your alcohol and drug use by saying that you just need “a little help getting through this.” Sometimes rationalization looks like drinking alcohol because you feel like you’ve been working hard and have “earned” it.
- Self-deception. Self-deception can be hard to recognize but a common sign is constantly convincing yourself that your substance use isn’t that bad or severe despite serious evidence to the contrary.
Even though denial is a normal reaction to stress, denying reality can be an extremely powerful but dangerous habit. Whether you tend to minimize, rationalize, or convince yourself that you’re fine when you’re not, denial prevents you from dealing with the reality of your situation. Instead of getting help for substance abuse, denial encourages you to continue engaging in addictive behaviors. Sadly, that pattern of behavior can cause strained relationships, financial difficulty, legal trouble, and a number of health issues.
Why Is Denial So Powerful and Dangerous?
Denial hinders the recovery process. When you’re in denial about the severity of your substance use, you can easily convince yourself that you don’t actually need treatment. Instead of acknowledging the difficulty of your situation, denial allows you to minimize the severity of the problem. Rather than facing the facts about what’s happening, denial encourages you to downplay the consequences. Though subtle, denial is one of the main reasons why many people who need addiction treatment don’t receive the help they need.
Denial is powerful and dangerous because opposing the truth:
- Suppresses self-efficacy. When you live in denial, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to build self-efficacy or a belief in your ability to succeed. A strong sense of self-efficacy can help you view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered, as well as overcome setbacks and disappointments and develop a stronger sense of commitment. Denial restricts your power, causing you to believe that difficult situations are beyond your capability, which causes you to avoid the challenging but rewarding task of recovery.
- Multiplies problems. Avoiding reality allows problems to grow. Research shows that denying the reality of a situation increases stress and the likelihood of heart attacks. Living in denial can also lead to physical illness, mental health disorders, and relationship problems. Denial can cause an addiction to turn into financial ruin, divorce, unemployment, homelessness, poor mental health, a criminal record, and chronic illness.
Luckily, there are many ways to overcome denial.
How To Overcome Denial
Overcoming denial isn’t easy, but it is possible. You may have to deal with some feelings of guilt and shame, but personal courage and supportive friends and family can help you acknowledge the truth and get help. Overcoming denial isn’t a one-time fix but rather an intentional process that often includes mindfulness, self-awareness, and therapy. Here are some practical tips to help you get started.
- Start a “truth about substance use” journal. Overcoming denial begins with self-awareness. You may not realize just how much or how often you’re consuming drugs or alcohol. This journal can help you come to terms with that reality. You don’t have to make the entries long or complicated. Just write down the dates, times, amount, and substance you consume. Seeing how often you drink alcohol or use pills can help you realize that maybe you do, in fact, consume too many addictive substances.
- Think about why you refuse to accept reality. Denial happens for a reason. Fear, rejection, shame, guilt, disappointment, criticism, and judgment can all lead to denial. Understanding your reasons for denial can help you combat those feelings. You can also talk to your family members and friends about these feelings. Let them know that coming to terms with the truth scares, frightens, or worries you. Let them know that you feel guilty or ashamed. Acknowledging this can help them empathize with you and support you as you seek professional help.
- Meet with a therapist. This may seem unnerving at first, but talking to a therapist is a non-judgemental way to deal with difficult situations and challenging truths. A therapist can help you open up, realize your reasons for denial, and accept the truth. A licensed therapist can also help you identify and change the thoughts that led to denial and addiction in the first place.
Other practical ways of overcoming denial include:
- Thinking about the potential negative consequences that will result if you don’t take action
- Listening to people who can challenge your thinking and offer you another perspective
- Opening up to a trusted friend or loved one
- Identifying irrational beliefs about your situation
- Participating in a support group
Helping You Overcome Denial and Change Your Life
Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we know how powerful and dangerous denial can be. Ignoring the truth about addiction can lead to a downward spiral that includes illness, relationship problems, mental health disorders, and socioeconomic challenges. Luckily our treatment programs can help you move past denial, heal past wounds, overcome addiction, and live a sober, empowered, and thriving life. Don’t let denial stop you from getting the help you need. Contact us today if you’re ready to overcome denial and change your life.