Getting a loved one into addiction treatment can be challenging. Some people may not believe that their substance use has escalated to a problematic level; others may feel that they have not yet hit “rock bottom” and therefore do not need to pursue a residential treatment program. One of the hallmarks of addiction is denial, and it can be a major roadblock to recovery. Today we’ll explore why denial is so common for those with substance use disorders, and how you can overcome it in the context of an intervention.
The Relationship Between Addiction and Denial
As an outside observer, you may find it impossible to believe that your loved one does not see the severity of their problem. Changes in appearance and behavior may be obvious to others, but these same transformations may be easily overlooked or excused by those in active addiction. Your loved one may have lost their job, close friends, health, or family. Denial explains why drug and alcohol use continues in spite of so many negative consequences.
Denial is defined as a selective ignoring of information; it can also be described as a type of self-deception. To maintain a positive self-image, many addicts filter out information that challenges their beliefs. This defense mechanism protects them from making changes to their behavior due to shame, self-hatred, or the concerns of others.
Ongoing substance use changes the chemistry of the brain; the frontal lobe and other areas associated with judgment and decision-making are significantly impacted. Additionally, they are consumed by the thought of obtaining more drugs or alcohol and using again. It is difficult to present any information that threatens this objective.
One of the most common types of addiction-related denial has to do with the idea of control. No one begins using drugs or alcohol with the goal of developing a substance use disorder. What starts as occasional or recreational use rapidly spirals into physical and psychological dependency. Because this can happen so quickly, many individuals are caught off guard by their sudden need for increased or more frequent dosages. They may respond to expressions of concern by reassuring others (and themselves) that they are in complete control of their substance use. They may say things like, “I can stop anytime I want to,” which makes it difficult to confront them with any effect.
Another problem that addicts face is denying that their substance use harms others. They may be so wrapped up in their own concerns that they ignore the effects that their actions have on friends, family members, and coworkers. Denial may manifest through blame, minimizing of events, or manipulation. This damage can only be made apparent through an organized intervention.
Plan the Intervention
It’s possible that your loved one has already thought about seeking help for their substance use, and that deep down, they have just been waiting for someone to reach out. The most important goal of any intervention is to express concern for your loved one in a clear, honest way. Plan the meeting ahead of time. Try to schedule it early in the day, when your loved one is likely to be more clear-headed. Gather trusted friends and family members who share your goal and ask them to write letters planning out what they will say.
You may be concerned that an organized intervention will push your loved one away, or that they will react negatively. While no outcome is certain, studies show that addicts are much more likely to seek treatment after experiencing an intervention.
If you would like more guidance before beginning this process, we encourage you to attend one of Lakeside-Milam’s free weekly intervention classes. In these sessions, trained professionals will help you to stop feeling like a victim, take back the power, and take action to help your loved one to get into treatment.
What If They Deny It?
No matter how your loved one responds to the meeting, it is important to remember that they are not a bad person – their reaction comes from a place of self-preservation. Denial can be overcome through a few tactics…
- Bring specific examples. If your loved one doesn’t believe their substance use is a problem, be prepared to provide evidence of certain events that prove your point. Generalizations will not convince them that there is an issue.
- Avoid accusations. Speaking in “I” phrases, such as “I saw” or “I noticed,” can be a constructive way to approach conflict. This keeps your loved one from going on the defensive and can help them to remain open to your points.
- Remember what they care about. Before addiction, your loved one may have been very passionate about their career, family, or hobbies. Explain how their substance use has affected what they care about most.
- Stay in touch. Regardless of the outcome, keep in touch with your loved one. They may be eager to receive treatment, but they may also think they do not need help right now. By remaining present in their life, you will have more chances to encourage them.
The Problem is Real. The Time is Now.
Recovery is an ongoing process, and overcoming denial is just one step towards healing. At Lakeside-Milam, we have helped over 100,000 alcoholics and addicts. We’re proud to provide intervention trainings and addiction education to friends and family members. Call 800-231-4303 to learn more about our services.