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Addiction & Denial: What to Say to Someone Who Doesn’t Think They Have a Problem

By Acqua Recovery on October, 1 2021

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Addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” according to a popular recovery slogan. Indeed, it’s a sad reality that a core symptom of one of the most devastating diseases known to mankind is the belief in the afflicted that they don’t have a problem. Denial and addiction go hand in hand, so if you know someone who is struggling, how can you break through and help?

Understanding the Disease Model of Addiction

First and foremost, it’s important to accept that denial is a symptom of addiction. Your loved one’s refusal to admit that they have a problem is not delusion, stupidity, or a moral failing. It’s a disease. On a practical level, denial allows a person struggling with substance use disorder to function, shielding them from the crippling shame, desperation, and fear that could otherwise engulf them. Accepting this reality can help you put aside a piece of your anger and frustration, so you can approach your loved one from a calm and loving state.

Supporting an Addicted Loved One

Another recovery saying is “attraction rather than promotion,” the idea that someone is more willing to adopt a behavior if they become attracted to it on their own, rather than being convinced through a hard sell job. Embracing this strategy can be a powerful way to get help for yourself while also setting a good example for your struggling loved one.

Try meeting with a counselor, a spiritual advisor, or a 12 Step group. If your loved one sees you getting help and healing, they might want some, too. You can send the message they need to hear without having to directly confront the wall of denial.

Addiction Interventions

If the situation is more dire and you don’t have time to wait, you might consider seeking out a professional interventionist. An interventionist is someone with professional training and experience in helping families talk to their loved ones about their addictions​​, ultimately with the goal of getting them into treatment.

The interventionist can help you plan out what to say to break through your loved one’s denial and force them to confront the reality of how their addiction is affecting you and your family.

Talking to an Addict or Alcoholic About Their Substance Abuse

If using an interventionist is not the best fit for you or your family, you might be prepared to speak to your loved one about their substance abuse issues on your own. You probably know from experience that it’s hard to break through the denial fortress.

Here are some tips for carefully navigating the conversation in a way that may make your loved one more likely to listen:

  • Use “I” statements. Start by saying something like, “I love you, and I am worried about you,” not, “You need to stop drinking. You’re killing yourself.”
  • Avoid shame or blame. It may be hard to see, but if your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, then they are likely already drowning in shame. Piling on to the pain they already feel is only going to make them lash out or retreat.
  • Ask your loved one about how they are feeling. Don’t focus on their behavior, the symptoms of their disease. Try asking your loved one about what they are going through. Give them the opportunity to talk about their fears, frustrations, and hopes. This can help bring clarity and connection to both of you, perhaps lighting the way towards a new path.
  • Let your loved one know they are not alone. Even just saying that you still love them and are there for them can be valuable. You never know when a crack may appear in their denial, and when that day comes they’ll know they can come to you for help.

Ultimately, denial is not permanent and addiction doesn’t have to be, either. Recovery is possible, and at Acqua Recovery we have the data and experience to prove it.

If you can relate to anything that you just read and you would like to learn more, please reach out and let us help you renew your sense of hope.

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