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How to Approach an Addict in Denial

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Denial can make it extremely difficult to get through to an addict and make them see that they need help. Let’s look into why denial often goes hand-in-hand with addiction, and how you can approach an addict in denial in a way that resonates with them.

What is Denial?

Denial is the refusal to accept the reality of a situation. It’s when someone refuses to acknowledge or accept something that is happening in their life, even if it’s true.

For some people, denial can be a coping mechanism. It allows them to avoid facing painful truths and thoughts, and instead focuses on happier memories or fantasies. Denial is an unhealthy way of dealing with difficult situations, and can lead to major problems down the road.


What Does Denial Look Like in Addiction? 

Denial is commonly tied to addiction, and it is a major factor in why addiction is so difficult to overcome. Denial allows addicts to continue using despite clear evidence that their behavior is causing harm or damage. 

woman upset talking to husband

The effects of denial can be disastrous both for the individual struggling with addiction and for those around them. If an addict isn’t able to confront reality, they risk losing control over their life and becoming isolated from family and friends. When someone is in denial, it can make it difficult to seek help and overcome the addiction.

Denial in addiction often presents itself in the following ways: 

Minimization: The addict will minimize the issue, saying that they don’t do as much drugs as other people, or they only do it for fun. They may refuse to accept that their drug use has led to any problems in their personal life.

Rationalization: They may try to rationalize their behavior by saying they’ve been having a hard time and just need a way to let loose, or perhaps they have a mental health disorder, and they claim that drugs help ease the symptoms. 

Blame: They may put the blame on other people by saying that someone else’s actions are causing them to use. 

Illusion of control: In many cases, the addict is deep in self-denial, and they cannot see that they have a problem. They believe that they are fully in control of how much and how often they use. 


Why Won’t the Addict Admit They Have a Problem?

Denial is major for addicts because it allows them to avoid facing up to the consequences of their actions. 

An addict may be in denial due to the following situations. 

Oblivion: The addict truly may not realize that their substance use is an issue of any sort. They may not be able to see that their drug use is hurting those around them. 

Shame: Admitting having an addiction can bring a lot of shame to the addict, due to the intense stigma that surrounds addiction.

Fear: They fear what will happen if they accept the consequences of their addiction. They don’t want to give up control of their life, or spend time in a treatment facility. They may not be ready to apologize or own up to their past mistakes. 


Tips for Confronting an Addict in Denial

When confrontation is inevitable, try to approach the situation calmly and respectfully. Make sure you have all of the facts before approaching an addict in denial; it’s easy for our words to turn into anger and violence when we aren’t prepared. 

Don’t Shame Them

The main thing that will drive an addict away is causing them to feel shame about their addiction. Explain that you’re worried about them and want to help, but also ask questions about their drug use specifically.

Ask how long they’ve been using this particular substance, what might make them stop using it (for example, if they lost a job or had some other big life change), and whether there are any other problems going on in their lives that may be contributing to their drug abuse. 

Asking questions such as, “How would you like things to be different in your life?” or “How do you think your behavior impacts your family?” can help the addict see the seriousness of their drug usage. 

Listen Carefully

Give your loved one an opportunity to speak, and really try to see things from their perspective. This will allow them to feel safe enough to open up about what’s going on and hopefully gain some insight into how they can improve their situation. Also allow your addicted loved one space to process everything if the conversation is getting heavy.

man and woman holding hands on table

Be Prepared for Resistance

Addicts will often do anything (even lie) in an attempt to keep from being exposed. It’s important not to let this dominate your interaction with the addict; focus on listening carefully without judgment, validating their feelings even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, and offering support where possible instead of lecturing or demanding compliance. Remember: You aren’t responsible for fixing their addiction. 

Be Supportive

Studies have shown that overly confrontational approaches – such as trying to force an addict into treatment or shaming them for their behavior – are not effective in changing addictive behaviors. In fact, these types of interactions often make addicts feel even worse about themselves and increase their sense of isolation from society. 

When talking with an addict, it’s easy to feel frustrated, helpless, and angry, but remember that they are probably feeling just as trapped and lost as you are. Try not to let your anger or frustration get in the way of your compassion. Remind them that you care about them and want what’s best for them. 

Engage with your loved one on a human level. This means being understanding and supportive without forcing them into any kind of change they don’t want or need to make. 

How to Help an Addict in Denial 

Addiction is a serious problem that needs to be addressed head-on. Unfortunately, many addicts are in denial about their condition, and don’t believe that they need help. It’s important to reach out to an addict in denial and try to get them the help that they need. 

There are various ways to do this, and the best way depends on the individual situation. However, there are a few general tips that can be helpful in getting an addict the help they need.

1. Educate yourself 

Making sure you have a clear understanding of what addiction is and what it does to the brain. addicts often think they can control their behavior, which makes conversations about changing habits difficult. It’s important for you to be open and honest about why trying harder isn’t working – addiction doesn’t care about ignorance or excuses! 

2. Stop Enabling

Sometimes the only way for an addict to recover is to let them feel the consequences of their addiction. Don’t enable them by making things easier for them, and don’t do things for them that they can do themselves.

It’s common for family members of an addict to be an enabler, which is one example of a dysfunctional family role in addiction. Enabling can cause you to become in denial of your loved one’s addiction as well. 

3. Avoid Making Assumptions

Don’t make assumptions about how your addicted loved one feels or thinks. Instead, ask them directly what they want from the conversation, and then try to listen carefully instead of jumping ahead with your own opinions or plans for them.

man with arm around his friend

4. Encourage Them to Seek Treatment 

Help your loved one understand that seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness. Let them know that you will be there for them throughout the whole process, and that attending treatment will benefit not only them, but everyone they are close to. 


Support for Family Members

If your loved one refuses to get help for their addiction, you need to lovingly withdraw from them. Practice clear communication and implement healthy boundaries. Stop giving them money, stop letting them stay at your house rent-free, stop making excuses for them. Make it clear that you still love and care for them, but that they cannot take advantage of you. 

Remember that ultimately, you can only do so much. The addict will accept help when they are ready to acknowledge that they have a problem. 

If you have a loved one with an addiction, and are unsure of how to get through to them, contact our addiction recovery specialists at The PAC Program. We can help you get the support that you need for yourself and your loved one.