The first step towards overcoming addiction is probably the hardest by far. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and in so many cases, regardless of how extreme their addiction problem is, or no matter how much they have suffered and shattered the lives of those who love them, addicts will deny they have a problem.
Left unchecked, alcoholism and drug addiction really have only one conclusion, the addict will die. People will literally drink themselves to death, or they will keep using their drug of choice until their body gives up its basic functions.
The disease of addiction is so powerful that the addict’s denial wants to prevent any intercession. It is almost like the disease takes on a life of its own, processing the victim, claiming his/her life for its own. Sensing that something might prevent it from moving forward, it fights back, controlling the addict’s mind, denying any truth, calling reality a liar.
Not all users become addicted
Not everybody who uses becomes and addict. People will take a prescription main medication for legitimate medical purposes, but they may abuse that drug once they discover that they like its effects. Even after using many times a person may not be suffering from any dependence, and they may chose to abuse the drug by crushing and snorting it to get the intense high it may deliver.
That still doesn’t mean they are an addict. But let’s suppose that the person uses the drug for recreation and begins a daily routine. Over time, especially with opiates, a person builds a tolerance to the drug, meaning it takes more and more to get the same high. As the disease progresses there comes a time when it takes over. The person can no longer just stop using. They lose their ability to choose. Addiction denial sets in.
It can certainly sneak up on you!
Addiction sneaks up on people. They don’t see it coming, much like the old example of the frog swimming in a pot of water. You turn on the heat, but the frog is unaware of the impending danger. He swims happily until it’s too late. Addicts do not believe they have a problem and if a problem is discussed, it’s your problem not theirs. It's everyone else's fault, these are the standard phrases of addiction denial.
Long after everyone else knows they have become addicted, or they have been in a pattern of abuse, regardless of the evidence presented, they will deny the issue entirely. It’s human nature.
Can’t make good decisions
The diseased mind cannot make good decisions. The very kind of thinking that got them into trouble to begin with is not going to be of any help in finding the solution. Sometimes it’s necessary to take the bull by the horns and decide for them, which is why some families chose an intervention. They're trying to overcome their loved one's addiction denial.
Family members are most often the ones that are hurt and they need to show the addict beyond any doubt that he/she has caused great pain and suffering. It’s not always dramatic like the ones shown on television, and sometimes they fail, but often an intervention can reach the last remaining piece of personal dignity that prompts the addict to perhaps consider the thoughts and feelings of another person.
Treatment is the BEST option
Treatment is the first and best option. In a good treatment program, one that tends to body, mind and spirit, addicts realize the destruction of their denial. The first of the 12 stapes says,
“We admitted that we were powerless over (substance), that our lives had become unmanageable.”
That powerful statement takes direct aim at denial. Once that hurdle is crossed, the addict can get on with treatment and recovery. However, that isn’t always a guaranteed outcome. Some people who enter into treatment programs, even if they agree that they are addicts, may not agree with the treatment. The denial is a form of control which the addicts use to manipulate their situation.
They may have a desire to get better, but it is going to be on their own terms, which is not hopeful. They get angry with treatment center staff members, pronounce the whole process “useless” and storm out of the building. Denial always wants its own way.
Need plan to deal with addiction denial. Families battling the addiction of a loved one need to understand denial and have a plan for how they are going to deal with it. Organizations like Al-Anon are ideal for families looking for guidance and support, as Al-Anon members understand denial, understand the addiction cycle and have been down the path. It’s an excellent resource for people who don’t know what to do, or where to turn next.
Addiction denial is a terrible encumbrance, but it doesn’t have to win. Families need to be persistent, stick together and have a plan to help the addict get over that first major step in fighting his/her disease.
Breaking denial using motivation and encouragement:
From Tough-Love to Enabling: The Search for a Better Way
An intervention show on TV depicts a family confronting a loved-one with
addiction. They read their letters to her, describing the emotional
pain they have all gone through. These are heart-wrenching stories.
It’s been a long a difficult journey for everyone. The interventionist
has prompted all of them to say that unless the addict consents to
treatment, there will be no more family connection. In some circles
this is called “tough love” but in others it is an unnecessary and
There is a fine balance between “laying down the law” and being unduly harsh, and this is a line defined not by intentions but by human reaction. A family might be convinced that the only way to get the attention of the addict is to cut off all family connection and let them suffer the consequences. Of course this action is taken after a long history of lying, stealing, deception and misdirection. The family has had their fill and now it is time for the addict to come to the realization that their choices are devastating. It is the family’s idea, not the addicts. That is the major difference that separates “tough love” from alternative plans.
about “thud,” that point in an addicts life when they hit the bottom and
there is no other alternative but to look up. Perhaps the underlying
strategy for cutting off family connection is that it will somehow force
the addict to “see the light” and turn around. There is a certain
measure of “buy-in” because the addict might take an action that is
acceptable to the family, but what is the real motivation? Is it “do
what I tell you or else?”
Change-Talk may be a better choice
Another way of approaching the problem is something called Motivation Interviewing or focusing on Change-Talk. As opposed to drawing the proverbial line in the sand, Change-Talk is a goal-oriented conversation about a particular behavior and draws upon the person’s own reasons and motivations for positive behavior change. Is there a way to talk to the addict about changing their life choices to increase the likelihood of success?
Research is starting to show something interesting, which may have been obvious all along, the more we talk about positive change the more likely we are to actually take steps to begin the change. If the family or loved one engages the addict about their drug use, ON THE ADDICT'S TERMS, they are likely willing to discuss the pros and cons of quitting.
Change-Talk allows for the relationship to continue and perhaps flourish through journeying together. This approach takes into account that recovery is not linear and that there are stages of change, and that learning Change-Talk is the key to moving forward. People move back and forth between stages, but the key is to focus on planning and determination. Rather than cutting off the relationship, family can learn how to “be with” the addict and be a positive, driving force behind them making positive choices.
Change-Talk is not confrontational
The interventions we see on television are extremely confrontational. Change-Talk is not. It is not one party gaining the upper hand or having power over the other one, but rather it is a partnership that allows for give and take and focuses on the expertise and perspectives of the addict. Because it is a relationship, each party has a say in how things move along, and rather than painting the addict into a corner, permission is requested to explore the “what ifs” of the addict’s choices. The addict’s own ideas influence the nature of the conversation.
For the one using Change-Talk, it is a way of being with the person that evokes their own resources and does not focus on lecturing or educating. It is important to understand that the resources for real change lie within the addict and the key is to unleash that potential. Because the addict’s own perceptions and experiences are the centerpiece of the conversation, their motivation is naturally enhanced. It’s their idea, not someone else’s. Questions are not asked to elicit a specific response, but are open-ended, allowing for more description and explanation.
The interviewer is not exercising authority over the addict, but respects the addicts’s right to make informed choices. This is important because an informed choice is more likely to result in positive change. Moreover, the addict is in charge of their own decisions, and therefore responsible for the outcome. The addict’s choices and control are emphasized.
Learning how and when to talk about change, as the addict sees the change, can make a huge difference. Allowing the addict to figure out how THEY WANT to change rather than being told HOW to change, may be much more successful than disconnection and abandonment.
Denial is often considered the first stage of change.
A lot research has been done to understand how we as humans change. Based on these studies there are five main stages of change that we all go through as we move from addiction to sobriety. The first stage has a fancy term for it called pre-contemplation.
When talking about addiction recovery, another term for pre-contemplation is denial. Pre-contemplative/denial can be helped by listening and understanding why they use, which can help lead them to considering change. Step 1 of the 12-steps starts exactly at that point:
We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol/drugs--that our lives had become unmanageable.
Is there a way to HELP the addict to become willing to admit that things aren't working as they are? That's the first step out of denial/pre-contemplation and into a life free from addiction. Helping someone to move from denial to considering change is often not easy and may time some time, but it is certainly worth all of the effort you put into it.