Addiction and the Power of Denial

Acceptance is necessary to begin the recovery process

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Acceptance is key to accepting and understanding reality, to make change and plan for the future. When we are in a content state, acceptance comes naturally. But when we are hurting, acceptance can be much more difficult and we may enter a state of denial. 

What Is Denial?

Denial is a state where you deny or distort what is really happening. You might ignore the problem, minimize people's concerns or blame others for any issues. In terms of addiction, whether it's to alcohol or gambling, denial is a powerful coping mechanism to delay facing the truth. 

Denial is very common, particularly in those struggling with addictive behaviors. No one wants to admit they are struggling with alcohol, drugs, or gambling; denial allows them to make the reality more flattering. In denial, a person may resort to various behaviors, including:

  • Minimizing: If the addiction is brought up, the person may act like you're blowing things out of proportion or exaggerating. They may say things like "it's not that bad" or "people do way more than I do". 
  • Rationalizing: People with addictions will rationalize their addiction, saying they are stressed and need a little help getting through or that they earned a reward for their hard work. 
  • Self-Deception: Self-deception is a powerful denial mechanism where the individual convinces himself that things aren't that bad or as severe as they really are. 

People with addictions use denial in order to continue engaging in addictive behaviors. Continued denial can cause destructive consequences, from health issues to harmed relationships. 

How Denial Can Be Overcome

Unfortunately, overcoming denial is not an easy process. It was often thought that people with addiction had to "hit rock bottom" before they could begin to cope with the reality of their problems. This gave the person an opportunity to accept the situation, begin to seek help, and move forward. However, we now know that we can intervene earlier before the person reaches this state of despair.

There are other methods that can help end denial by stressing reality, such as:

  • Therapy: An addiction therapist can help people face their problems
  • Journaling: Keeping a journal on addictive behaviors, whether it's writing down how many drinks you have each day or how much money you spend at the casino, can give real proof of the extent of the issue. 
  • Consequences: Negative consequences, such as the depletion of a bank account, end of a relationship or loss of a job due to addiction can be a major wake-up call
  • Education: Many people simply do not realize they have an addiction, but by reading educational materials on specific addictions, may recognize particular behaviors in themselves

Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that people can use to justify or rationalize their addiction. This is a state that can vary in duration; for some, it may be just a few weeks. For others, it can be months or even years. As long as this state persists, treatment cannot begin in earnest and will often end in relapse.

With therapy and support, the person with an addiction can begin to accept reality and take the first important steps towards a full recovery. 

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lancer, D. Substance Abuse: The Power of Acceptance. PsychCentral.

  2. Melemis SM. Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale J Biol Med. 2015;88(3):325-32.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.