What Role Does Denial Play in Addiction and Recovery?

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Many people who develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol require substance abuse treatment to overcome it and avoid the physical, emotional, and social consequences that often accompany this condition.

The first step of getting help for an addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Denial may keep you from recognizing that you have an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol. It can keep you from getting the treatment you need until the addiction has caused significant, undeniable damage.

Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that can be helpful in some rare circumstances. More often than not, though, denial keeps people from seeing a problem and making changes to solve it. Periods of denial can last for a short period or may stretch on for years.

If you love someone with addiction, it may be frustrating to watch them struggle with obvious signs of substance abuse while they deny that they have a problem. Until your loved one breaks out of their denial and can recognize they have an addiction problem, treatment is unlikely to be effective. Their risk of relapse will remain high until they overcome their denial.

At New Jersey Addiction Interventions, we believe that people can recover from addiction if they have the right support and treatment. Our programs are adaptable, comprehensive, and designed to empower people in their journey away from addiction. Reach out to our staff to find out more about how we can support you.

Understanding Denial

Denial is a coping mechanism that prevents people from accepting the reality of a difficult situation. For someone who is living with addiction, denial can be a barrier between the addicted person and the treatment they need.

Denial is often associated with certain behaviors, including:

  • Minimizing: The person may downplay the severity of their substance abuse. They may insist that you’re exaggerating about their substance abuse or say that other people use more than they do.
  • Rationalizing: The person may have excuses about why they abuse drugs or alcohol. They may blame it on stress or other people’s actions.
  • Self-deception: The addicted person may continue to believe “things aren’t that bad” even as they face more severe consequences of their addiction.

Whether you are concerned about your own substance abuse or worried about a loved one, reach out to the staff at New Jersey Addiction Interventions to talk to our supportive staff about getting the help you need.

The Connection Between Denial and Addiction

Left untreated, an addiction will usually get more severe–and the consequences can, too. Addiction can take a toll on people’s physical and mental health, strains relationships, and can lead to life-altering legal or financial problems. Getting early addiction treatment gives people the best chance at lifelong recovery.

Denial keeps people from seeing that there is a problem, often until they have been living with addiction for a long time. People can remain in denial for a short time–days or weeks–or for months and sometimes years. They may continue to minimize their substance abuse and the consequences it brings.

Sometimes it takes a major event to break through someone’s denial. This could mean serious medical problems, a legal problem, or the loss of a relationship or job. By the time the person faces big, undeniable consequences, their addiction may be more deeply rooted and harder to treat.

While it is possible for anyone to overcome an addiction by getting the treatment they need, it is usually easier if the person is in the earlier stages of addiction. Finding a way to get through to someone in denial about addiction can be challenging, but it is important to try.

Working to Overcome Denial

Overcoming denial can take time and effort, and people must be willing to examine how their behavior lines up with their values and goals. Often, the work of overcoming denial happens in treatment. This may happen during many activities, including:

  • Individual therapy
  • Holistic practices like yoga, meditation, mindfulness practice, and journaling
  • Learning about addiction
  • Group support

It can also happen as people face the real-world consequences of their addiction. The breakup of a marriage, a night in jail, serious medical issues, or losing a job or housing may be a painful wake-up call to people previously living in denial. While these things can have a long-lasting, painful impact on people’s lives, they can also be a catalyst for change.

If you recognize the signs of denial in yourself or someone you love, you can find the support and treatment you need at New Jersey Addiction Interventions.

Learn More About Overcoming Denial and Addiction at New Jersey Addiction Interventions

If you or someone you love requires high-quality, adaptable substance abuse treatment, you are not alone. Reach out to the staff at New Jersey Addiction Interventions for information about the programs we offer. Whether you need detox and treatment or support in recovery, we will be with you every step of your journey.

Addiction can often feel lonely. You do not have to live with addiction. Effective, caring treatment is a phone call away. Call today to speak with one of our admissions counselors about starting the life-changing treatment you deserve.

Medically Reviewed: January 20, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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