Addiction Denial | Signs, Types, Stages, & How To Help

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on April 28, 2023

Those experiencing substance use disorder sometimes refuse to admit that they have a problem and avoid seeking help. This is known as addiction denial, a complicated mental state that serves as a form of defense mechanism and obstacle in the recovery process.

Addiction denial is a common and complex problem that often makes it difficult for those with drug addiction or alcohol addiction to get the help they need and make positive changes in their lives.

The expression of this denial can vary from person to person, but the purpose is the same. 

Denial serves as a defense mechanism (along with blaming, regression, and projection) that allows a person to avoid or cope with the painful reality of their substance use disorder as well as the trauma and cognitive dissonance that come with chronic, compulsive substance abuse.

Signs Of Addiction Denial

There are certain signs or patterns that can hint that someone is in denial about a substance use disorder, including:

  • refusing to recognize or admit that there is a problem or that one is actually addicted to drug or alcohol abuse
  • hiding, lying about, downplaying, or rationalizing one’s addictive behavior
  • continuing in substance abuse despite its harmful consequences
  • minimizing the severity of one’s addictive behavior and its consequences on oneself and others
  • shifting blame to others
  • refusing to accept a need for change or neglecting to seek help when urged to do so

Unfortunately, denial can continue for a long period of time and may look different for each person. It often takes increasingly obvious problems and severe consequences for a person’s pattern of denial to break down and for them to accept they need help.

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Types Of Addiction Denial

Those in addiction denial are often classified into two broad types of denial:

  • Type A addiction denial: when a person internally understands that they have a problem but will not admit this truth externally (deceiving others)
  • Type B addiction denial: when a person genuinely cannot believe or accept that they are suffering from addiction, instead inventing rationalizations and justifications for their behavior and its consequences (self-deception)

Stages Of Addiction Denial

Denial isn’t a static state. It can change over time, though the stages of this change can look somewhat different for those facing type A or type B addiction denial.

Stage One

Those in the first stage of addiction denial may not feel that they have a drug or drinking problem at all. 

Type B individuals simply lack the self-awareness to see the problem, while Type A individuals recognize that there is a problem but, often because of a lack of perceived negative consequences, avoid addressing it in any form.

In order to move past stage one, the person with addiction must:

  • learn and understand exactly what a substance use disorder is
  • admit that they fall underneath its purview
  • accept that total abstinence is the only possible resolution

Stage Two

Moving out of stage one denial likely comes with some form of recovery, often through professional addiction treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting. 

However, after leaving the treatment center or treatment program and the accountability that comes with it, many still cannot accept what Alcoholics Anonymous has termed one’s “powerlessness” over addiction.

At this point, many will deny the importance of total sobriety and will move forward without a strong support system. This often leads to a return to drinking or drug use, allowing a person to once again fall into the trap of substance abuse and addiction.

To move past stage two, a person must surrender to a ‘higher power,’ that being a purpose, entity, or concept beyond themselves, and charge that higher power with the recovery they cannot achieve through their willpower alone.

Stage Three

Those in the third stage of denial have accepted that they struggle with an SUD and need a higher power, but are reluctant to go to total lengths required for their sobriety. This often means that they continue to expose themselves to triggers in the form of certain places, people, and expectations.

While those in stage three often eventually crumble, active participation in support groups and a constant reinvestment in the recovery process as a life priority is the best solution. 

While friendships, jobs, and relationships are important, recovery can sometimes require a true refocusing of one’s life that puts sobriety over everything else.

How To Help Someone In Addiction Denial

Denial of addiction can be a frustrating problem for the family members and loved ones of those with a substance use disorder. However, there are a few things you can do to help:

  • if you feel safe and comfortable, talk with the person about your concerns
  • offer to help them find and attend an addiction recovery program
  • be patient, a person has to truly want to change for it to happen
  • remember that you are not alone—there are resources, support groups, and professional help available to support the loved ones of those living with alcohol and drug addiction

While substance abuse treatment services like medical detox, inpatient treatment, and peer support groups can be intimidating, they can have a profound impact on a person’s recovery from alcohol or drug abuse as well as the course of a person’s life.

If you struggle with substance abuse and addiction, please reach out to a treatment provider like Ohio Recovery Center today.

  1. Addiction Prevention Coalition — Denial: Why It Happens and How to Overcome It
  2. Addictive Disorders and Their Treatment — Coming to Terms With Reality: Predictors of Self-deception Within Substance Abuse Recovery
  3. Mayo Clinic — Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — SAMHSA TIP 35 Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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