Author: Alex Thompson

Addiction Denial: Signs, Stages, and Causes

why are alcoholics in denial

Rational beliefs are formed on the basis of solid evidence and are open for appropriate revision when new evidence makes them less likely to be true. It is now well-established that we are prone to various cognitive biases that have powerful influences on how we make decisions. For example, the confirmation bias causes people to embrace information that confirms their pre-existing narratives. People hold certain beliefs (often unconsciously) in part because they attach value to them. Environmental factors such as access, social pressure, and lack of coping can also increase the likelihood of addiction. If you’re seeking help for a teen, you can check out resources from the Family Resource Center or the Partnership to End Addiction.

  1. You, too, might realize that your relationship with alcohol is negatively affecting your life.
  2. When they are high, their fears of inadequacy and unworthiness fade away.
  3. Using data from two generations of the San Diego Prospective Study (SDPS), we compared AUD subjects who considered themselves non-problematic drinkers (Group 1) with those with AUDs who acknowledged a general alcohol problem (Group 2).
  4. For those who have not experienced true denial, they may think that it is simply “denying” that a problem exists.

Some people with alcohol use disorder hide or deny they have difficulty with alcohol use. There are many reasons why someone would do this, like fear of societal rejection or being “blamed” for their condition. In short, “there’s not a single image of AUD,” points out Sabrina Spotorno, a clinical social worker and alcoholism and substance abuse counselor at Monument. To find a treatment program, browse the top-rated addiction treatment facilities in each state by visiting our homepage, or by viewing the SAMHSA Treatment Services Locator. We are available to explore addiction treatment options that can help you or your loved one get the assistance needed to start recovery.

Variables were first evaluated as univariate characteristics after which significant group differences were entered in logistic regression analyses. In conclusion, denial of a general alcohol problem by individuals who admitted to multiple AUD criteria items was quite common in the SDPS, despite prodigious maximum drinking quantities. This pattern of denial indicates that greater efforts need to be made to educate our patients and our colleagues regarding what an AUD is and how serious the prognosis can be. For AUD probands, deniers were less likely to endorse several specific criteria that might offer some insights into why they do not consider themselves problem drinkers.

Space constraints do not allow for an expanded examination of the phenomenon of changes in rates of endorsement of AUD criteria as individuals age, but that question will be revisited in a future paper. The current analyses focus on inaccurate denial of current AUDs in individuals who report themselves as light or moderate social drinkers. To prepare for the study we searched the literature for specific characteristics of individuals who evidence denial. Marital status and education level did not consistently relate to the probability of denial (Ortega and Alegria, 2005; Rinn et al, 2002), although one study suggested more denial among lower educated individuals (Fendrich and Vaughn, 1994). Even more inconsistent results were seen for the relationship to denial for sex, age, socioeconomic status or income (Clark et al., 2016; Fendrich and Vaughn, 1994; Ortega and Alegria, 2005; Rinn et al., 2002; Rosay et al., 2007).

Denial is a form of motivated belief or self-deception that detaches an individual from reality (Bortolotti, 2010). To maintain a positive view of themselves, people revise their beliefs in the face of new evidence of good news but ignore bad news. Psychological processes such as distraction, forgetfulness, and repression, may serve as a variation of denial. It should be noted that these psychological processes may or may not be conscious processes.

Name what you’re seeing

HFAs personally experience strong and lasting denial, but their loved ones and social set are not immune to this phenomenon. Many HFAs report their families were in denial of their alcoholism which is referred to as “secondary denial” or being aware that someone is alcoholic but struggling to accept it or thinking that his or her alcoholism isn’t that serious. Other HFAs reported that their family members may be aware of their alcoholism. Specifically, one male HFA observed that his wife knew he was an alcoholic but still believed that he was “not that bad of an alcoholic,” because he was still functioning.

why are alcoholics in denial

Much of the literature on denial has focused on underlying mechanisms that contribute to false negative reports regarding SUDs. A person may consciously or unconsciously engage in addiction denial because they are struggling to accept the reality of their behavior. Recognizing signs in yourself or loved ones can initiate the process of recovery.

Types Of Alcoholic Denial

Those denial rates were higher than the levels predicted in Hypothesis 1 and occurred despite deniers reporting averages of nine to 11 maximum drinks across probands and offspring. If a clinician had asked these men and women general questions about their drinking status (e.g., “describe your drinking” or “how much do you drink”) that health care deliverer probably would not have recognized their patient’s drinking problem. The high rate of denial reported here was not anticipated in subjects with higher education and many life achievements, individuals who might have had an advantage in noting that a general alcohol problem was present. However, despite their heavy drinking and multiple alcohol-related problems, their high level of functioning might have convinced these subjects that they did not meet their stereotype of what individuals with AUDs are like.

why are alcoholics in denial

You can also visit the NIAAA Rethinking Drinking website or read the NIAAA treatment guide to learn more about alcohol use disorder and to find help for your loved one. If you or someone you know is living with alcohol use disorder, there are a number of resources that can help. Sometimes, it may be easier for your loved one with alcohol use disorder to avoid talking about it completely.

However, many people with AUD use denial as a self-defense mechanism. People using denial are unlikely to admit they use alcohol heavily and that their relationship with alcohol is unhealthy. This can be very frustrating for friends and family, but there are ways to make a conversation easier. Coming to the rescue of a loved one who struggles with alcohol dependence may seem like the right thing to do, but it essentially allows them to never experience the negative consequences of their drinking. Admitting the negative consequences requires one to end the behavior causing these consequences. Denial, therefore, protects a person against this negative experience by denying the reality of one’s situation, when doing so would cause such psychological pain and distress.

Signs of Addiction Denial

You, too, might realize that your relationship with alcohol is negatively affecting your life. People who are high functioning with a drinking problem “seem to have everything together,” says Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC, a certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor. They’re able to successfully manage tasks around their work, school, family, and finances, he says. It is important to recognize that just because you have realized that your loved one may be in need of an alcohol addiction treatment program, that does not mean they will agree. Another form of defense can happen when a person struggling with addiction creates a group of people that allows them to continue to believe that their drinking is not a problem, nor the cause of their hard times. When a person starts abusing alcohol, they may feel they have a good reason.

Lacking the capability to cope with negative states, they will erect powerful, sometimes intransigent, defenses in a desperate effort to avoid feeling them. Keeping the unacceptable feelings out of awareness result in the development of a “false self.” The price for this protection is the inability to seek out help. For instance, an alcoholic dismisses that his or her excessive drinking is a real problem.

Being High-Functioning: Feeding the Alcoholic Denial

They might feel powerful, unpleasant emotions such as shame, stress, and fear at the thought of confronting the problem. But if you or someone you know is showing signs of denial, don’t feel discouraged. The NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator is a great tool that provides more information about alcohol use disorder, how to find treatment, and how to find support. It’s important for you and others involved in helping your loved one to understand and view alcohol use disorder as a long-term health condition, just like you do high blood pressure or diabetes. If you think someone you know is in denial about living with alcohol use disorder, there are ways you can help them.