Addiction denial is a stage of the grieving process where, despite clear signs and symptoms, people refuse to believe that they are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Believe it or not, denial actually serves a useful purpose as a coping mechanism that shields us from pain. The problem, however, is that it also prevents us from getting the help we really need.
This is what makes denial in addiction so difficult – not just for the people struggling with the chemical dependency, but also for their friends and families. Loved ones can usually see that there is a problem, but until the addict acknowledges it, there is very little anyone can do to help.
In this post, our goal is to help people who may have a problem with drugs or alcohol understand more about the denial stage and how to move beyond it.
How Do I Tell If I’m in Denial of Addiction?
Your brain uses denial to protect you from unpleasant feelings. So, the only way to recognize if you are experiencing denial in addiction may be to get out of your own head for a second. This is easier said than done, but here’s a simple exercise that could help:
Think back on the last week or month. At any time, can you recall making excuses for your behavior while under the influence? Excuses like, “it was just that one time.” Or, “I didn’t really mean those things I said.” If so, was it an isolated incident or do you see a pattern?
Now ask yourself another question: Have your friends, family or co-workers expressed concern or made comments about your drug use? If you answered yes, did you respond with a negative, defensive or angry reaction? If so, this is could be a classic sign of addiction denial. Remember, denial is a coping mechanism that your brain uses to protect against painful emotions. Comments from your friends could make you feel exposed, vulnerable or under attack.
How Do I Overcome Addiction Denial?
There is no right way to deal with addiction denial. For some, it could take weeks, months or even years to address properly. However, that doesn’t mean you must wait around helplessly. Try keeping a journal of all the times you make excuses for your behavior while intoxicated, or of comments from friends and family. If you aren’t ready to accept these as warning signs of addiction denial today, you might be ready in the future. A journal gives you something objective to look back on – free from the tricks your mind could be playing on you.
The Stigma of Addiction in Society
Addiction stigma, the combination of negative personal and societal views of substance use and addiction, can be a difficult obstacle on your path to recovery. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of the people struggling with addiction delay or fail to seek treatment for substance use disorders largely due to these pervasive feelings and views.
When we talk about the stigma of drug addiction, we’re discussing the shame, disgrace and negative associations people make with the condition. These feelings often come from assumptions and not facts. They fail to consider the person and instead perpetuate an ongoing cycle that shames and embarrasses those afflicted with addiction. But there are some things you can do to help a loved one move past this shame to get the help he or she needs.
Overcoming the Social Stigma of Drug Addiction
Common misconceptions about addiction are often based on generalizations related to behaviors that are observed by people struggling with this disease. Impaired judgment, erratic behavior and the consequences of these states of being are used to stereotype the people involved.
Many still believe that addiction is based on a lack of willpower or a broken moral compass. However, more and more research shows that addiction is a serious disease of the brain with a variety of genetic and environmental factors. It can happen to anyone from any walk of life.
Unfortunately, the drug use stigma that persists is part of the reason why 90% of the millions afflicted with addiction don’t seek help. It actively suppresses programs that may help, like substitution treatments and needle exchange programs. Even among the healthcare community, addiction stigma held by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can stand in the way of someone getting the help they need.
The Deeply Personal Impact of Drug Use Stigma
The stigma related to addiction causes significantly negative impacts to a person’s:
- Relationships with loved ones, and
- Drive to seek treatment and healing
The shame, guilt and embarrassment paralyze the individual and their family from taking action that can help. No one wants to invite public scrutiny and judgment into their private matters. Society’s view of substance abuse as a matter of crime and punishment fuels these fears, which often leads to social isolation and loneliness, complicating matters further.
Dealing With Addiction Stigma as a Woman
It’s important to understand that addiction is a complex condition. Often, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved. It’s not a sign of moral failing. It’s not a conscious choice you made. If you have tried to quit on your own and failed, you are not alone.
With professional help, you can greatly reduce your risk of relapse. In treatment, you’ll be able to develop healthier coping mechanisms, identify self-destructive behavior and build support systems that can bolster your recovery efforts. Don’t let the stigma of addiction prevent you from getting the help you deserve.
Coping with the Stigma of Addiction
While a massive public education effort is needed to combat much of the widespread stigma of addiction, you can help a loved one cope with it on a local level by:
- Offering compassionate support
- Speaking up for those being mistreated because of drug use
- Understanding their vulnerability
- Listening without judging
- Seeing the individual person and understanding they are not defined by their condition
- Educating yourself and your family about addiction and treatment options
- Avoiding labels like druggie, junkie, etc. that imply moral judgments
It’s difficult to talk about something like addiction when there are so many prejudices and misconceptions, but it’s a vital conversation if you want to help your loved one get better. Be ready to help them overcome common excuses and move beyond the stigma of addiction together as a family.
Footprints Beachside Recovery is Here to Help
At Footprints Beachside Recovery, we understand addiction on a personal level. We have gone through the struggle and came out the other side to find a happier, healthier life. You can experience healing, too. Don’t wait another moment. Contact our addiction professionals today for a confidential conversation about treatment options for your loved one.
Ready to take the first step?