Whether you or someone you care about is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you have probably noticed certain behaviors. You might be unable to quit using, even though you have tried before. Maybe you’ve started having problems at work, at home or with money — even though those problems don’t seem related to using. You might even be unable to control how much or how frequently you drink or use drugs, or you find yourself preoccupied with using more and more. If these characteristics sound familiar, you may be suffering from addiction or abuse.
There’s a difference between addiction and abuse, however. Although abuse can lead to addiction, it’s not the same as addiction. If you are abusing, you’ve probably used many excuses to explain why drinking or drugs is a problem. No doubt, if you have a loved one who is abusing drugs or alcohol, you’ve probably heard all the excuses in the book.
One of the most important things to know about addiction is that denial is one of the key characteristics of this life-threatening disease. The other is that waiting until rock bottom to get help is dangerous and makes the road back to sobriety even more challenging. Here’s what you need to know about identifying an addict in denial. There are 5 common signs that you or someone you care about is addicted, which show how addiction and denial go hand in hand.
1. I Can Stop Anytime I Want.
For an addict, using alcohol or drugs makes them feel in control of their lives. Many addicts convince themselves that they only use by choice — that they can stop anytime they want. But in reality, it is just the opposite. Drug and alcohol addiction controls the lives of the addict so much, they harm themselves and the ones that they love. Addicts cannot stop themselves, and the sooner they get help from a treatment facility or program, the better off they will be.
To convince your addicted loved one to get the help he so desperately needs, you’ll need to prove that prior attempts to quit have been unsuccessful. Keep a journal of your loved one’s addiction, including dates and events that show a pattern of abuse. Try to view the act of confronting your loved one’s addiction as the first step in a long journey you must be prepared for.
2. If Everyone Would Just Get Off My Back, Everything Would Be Fine.
Addicts convince themselves that it is not them with the problem — it’s everyone else. In fact, they believe that family and friends trying to convince them to seek treatment for their substance abuse only make matters worse. The truth is, however, that ignoring the problem — or pretending it doesn’t exist — enables that addict to continue a destructive lifestyle. And that’s definitely not the answer.
Convincing a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol that others have his best interests at heart can be difficult. Drugs and alcohol frequently worsen paranoid feelings. You might find it helpful to include in your journal the stories of those loved ones who tried to intervene and why they have your loved one’s best interests at heart. The life of an addict is often lonely, and your loved one might feel angry and depressed. Knowing that people who care are ready to help is an enormous comfort — even if your loved one isn’t ready to admit it yet.
3. It’s My Life. If I Want to Screw It Up, That’s My Choice.
If it was only the addict’s life affected by his/her drug or alcohol use, this might be true. However, drug and alcohol abuse often comes with dishonesty, legal troubles, financial issues, abusive behavior and more. It’s not just the addict’s life being ruined by addiction; friends, families, and coworkers also feel the effects, even if they are not using.
Imagine a family whose children watch one or both parents drink themselves to sleep every night, or having to deal with the challenges of an addicted sibling. Think about parents who are desperate to help their teen avoid the lifelong challenges that addiction presents. Put yourself in the place of a spouse who spends nights lonely and afraid of what might happen after mysterious hours away, and who feels there is no place to turn for help.
These are the addiction stories that happen every day in thousands of communities across America and the rest of the world. It’s clear that addiction affects everyone who knows the struggling person — not only the struggling person himself.
4. Detox Is Worse Than Drugs.
It’s true that quitting a well-established addiction to drugs or alcohol without help can be extremely challenging. In general, the longer a person has depended on drugs or alcohol, the more difficult quitting can be. Physical symptoms can last for several days, and in the worst cases, weeks. The emotional and behavioral recovery takes longer and, for many, can be even more difficult.
The good news is that getting help makes dealing with these symptoms much easier. The early days of sobriety, often characterized by vomiting, insomnia, flu-like symptoms and hallucinations, can be eased with medical intervention. Later on, intensive therapy and focusing on a healthier diet and overall lifestyle are powerful weapons in the fight to live a satisfying, abstinent lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the fear or what lies ahead if they choose to get treatment causes many addicts to avoid recovery centers. Urban myths about detox convince many that it is worse than the drugs themselves, so they avoid treatment altogether. In reality, each treatment plan at a recovery center is tailored to the specifics needs of each client. Frequently, clinicians prescribe medications to help ease the symptoms of pain during the detox process. Holistic rehab can also treat the underlying symptoms and behaviors of addiction, which often include depression, post traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety and more. It can treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal as well as the reasons your loved one relies on substances to relieve stress.
5. Getting Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Means I’m Weak.
Where is it written that a person who is struggling with drugs or alcohol must suffer through the sobriety process alone? Nowhere. In fact, many people who were formerly addicted to drugs or alcohol observe that simply admitting they had a substance abuse problem was one of the most difficult parts of getting sober. The fact is that people who refuse to get help and who continue with their addictive behaviors are not yet strong enough to accept and confront their necessary lifestyle changes.
Addiction is a disease that requires great strength and perseverance from the addict and his/her loved ones to overcome. Admitting you have a problem and seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness; it takes a strong person to take on the responsibility of your problem, and of conquering the pain it causes yourself and those around you. That is why admitting powerlessness over addiction is Step 1 of the 12 Steps — once you or your loved one can acknowledge that getting help is necessary, you open yourself up to healing. You’ll be able to begin a new lifestyle based on abstinence, respect for oneself and others, and trust. The strength your loved one will receive from admitting powerlessness will be an important step in the lifelong path to abstinence.
Helping an Addict in Denial
The power of these rationalizations is so strong that confronting an addict in denial is one of the most difficult things a loved one can do. Your loved one might not have any financial problems. He may have chalked up lost friendships to certain events or conversations — but never the bad judgment that results from a chronic substance abuse problem. After all, you or your loved one may be holding down a job, married with children, and have all the outward appearances of a healthy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, addiction is cunning, as Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill W so succinctly noted. This means identifying a substance abuse problem can be more difficult than you ever thought possible.
Nevertheless, confronting an alcoholic or drug addict in denial is one of the most important ways to help them or yourself. If you notice any of the following symptoms in addition to denial, it’s time to have a conversation about quitting and getting help:
- Drinking or using drugs when alone.
- Drinking or using drugs at unusual times, such as in the morning.
- Keeping alcohol or drugs in unusual places, such as hidden in the home, the car or in a desk at work.
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol or drugs that requires taking more and more to get the same high.
- Combining multiple substances to get a stronger high, such as taking painkillers and drinking alcohol at the same time.
- Lying about or hiding how much or how frequently substance abuse takes place.
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety and shakiness, when trying to stay sober.
- Legal problems resulting from substance abuse, such as a DUI.
- Ignoring old friends or once-loved activities to spend time using instead.
- Blacking out things that occurred when using drugs or alcohol.
- Relapsing into abuse after a period of sobriety, or alternating between periods of using and periods of sobriety.
Certain signs are unique to prescription drug abuse, which is the fastest growing substance problem in America. If you notice these signs — especially if they occur alongside any of those above — it’s time to confront your addicted loved one and get rid of denial:
-Taking more than the prescribed dose.
-Taking drugs for longer than prescribed.
-Taking drugs even though the original symptoms have disappeared.
-Getting more than one prescription from more than one doctor, just in case running out is a problem — this practice is illegal and is called “doctor shopping.”
-Altering a prescription drug to get a faster high, such as chopping and snorting.
-Switching to a stronger drug, such as heroin, because it’s cheaper.
If you know someone who is demonstrating these behaviors, it’s time to confront them and remove denial.
Approaching a Loved One Who Is Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol
Choosing the right time to approach a loved one who is addicted and in denial is essential to convincing that person to seek treatment. Always pick a time when your loved one is sober — never pick a fight during periods of obvious use. Take the diary you kept that details the denial, and remember to stay calm. Have a clear plan of what you’re going to say and how you’re prepared to help.
Also avoid blame statements. Instead, phrase concerns conscientiously with “when you…I feel” statements. For example, “When you drink at parties, I feel like you start arguing with me in front of other people and that embarrasses me.” Or, “when you got that DUI, I worried a lot about how we are going to pay for a lawyer and how that will affect our reputations.”
When speaking to your struggling loved one, don’t let other people intrude on your conversation. Being confronted over drug and alcohol use can be embarrassing, and when others overhear or pile on, it can cause your loved one to feel more shameful and defensive. Identify the specific words and actions of your loved one that upset you, and identify the differences in personality that occur when your loved one is sober and when your loved one is using. State your desire to help your loved one get into rehab, as well as your commitment to stay involved during the entire process and work together to achieve a successful outcome.
Direct Strategies for Dealing With Denial
Denial is a powerful coping mechanism used by people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They use denial to avoid understanding and addressing the feelings and thoughts that motivate using. The addict believes, subconsciously, that drinking and doing drugs does less damage than working to understand the pain and motivations that lie underneath. Those who question whether or not things are really “fine” are met with anger.
Although it can feel impossible to convince a loved one that substance abuse is a problem, there are many strategies you can use to help him recognize his addiction. It’s also important to continuously stress the long term consequences of denial, which may include:
- Continuing to compromise reality for fantasy. The more your loved one refuses to accept that substance abuse is a problem, the worse his hold on reality will become.
- Serious professional and financial damage. Although your loved one may be working securely now, a steep downward spiral is inevitable if abuse continues.
- Permanently damaged relationships. People who are in denial are at risk of permanently damaging the trust of those who love them the most, including their spouses, children, parents and siblings.
- Serious legal consequences. People who refuse to get help are at risk of losing their freedom, harming others or becoming the victim of violence.
- Potentially fatal health problems. If your struggling loved one has developed heart disease, liver disease or other substance-related conditions, continuing to use is life threatening.
During your final attempts to reach your loved one, you must be prepared to hear some unpleasant truths about your own life. Your loved one may attempt to justify his behavior with your past actions. Be prepared to set limits — strive for a rational discussion of the problem and avoid a shouting match at all costs.
Refute each excuse with a calm and rational response, and don’t be afraid to acknowledge when your loved one is correct. You can try leaving your loved one with a book or website that talks about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Independent information given with no emotional attachment can sometimes convince a loved one to get help.
When Conversations Fail
Keep in mind that even the most carefully-planned and perfectly-executed conversations about denial and addiction may end in a heated argument — and more denial. Remember, denial is characteristic of addiction. The last person to know is almost always the addicted individual. If you have already had multiple conversations and none of them turned out as planned, it may be time to consider an intervention.
During intervention, you and those who care for your struggling loved one will confront him about addiction and ask him to get help. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the fight against substance abuse, but it must be expertly planned and managed to achieve a successful outcome. Interventions are so challenging that they may even appear to fail at first. But even if an intervention “fails” at first, many individuals eventually admit that the intervention sparked their gradual acceptance of addiction.
Confront and Beat Denial
If you’re tired of hearing, “I’m happier when I’m using drugs!” or “I would have to quit my job to get clean, and we can’t afford that,” 12 Keys Rehab can help. We know exactly what you or your loved one is going through and we are here to help.
If you or a loved one is ready to conquer addiction, call 12 Keys Rehab today, and begin your journey to a fulfilling, substance-free life.