Author: James Anderson

Helping a High-Functioning Alcoholic in Denial

why are alcoholics in denial

For an addict, it can be terrifying to acknowledge the harm one has done by one’s addiction to oneself and potentially to others one cares for. When they are high, their fears of inadequacy and unworthiness fade away. For example, alcohol and heroin are often sought for their numbness. The terms denial (or repression) can be defined as selective ignoring of information. Denial is a refusal to acknowledge the reality of one’s situation.

You can offer support to someone with AUD who is in denial and take steps to ensure you’re not enabling their drinking, but you can’t make them get help. For these individuals, dishonesty can be intentional or unintentional. They may lie to simultaneously maintain their drinking habits and their relationships with loved ones. They may also engage in evasion, deception and manipulation to distort the truth about their alcoholism.

Denial is a defense mechanism for people suffering from addiction, and it is one factor that can keep them from seeking life-saving treatment. It’s hard watching a loved one deny their drinking problem. There may be many reasons why someone is hesitant to seek help — from lack of awareness to stigma and shame.

A 2007 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse showed that 37 percent of college students avoided seeking substance abuse treatment for fear of stigma. Denial is closely linked to addiction, especially in those with an alcohol use disorder. The person can’t or won’t see that their drinking is out of hand and they need substance abuse treatment. Despite the hardships of this condition, there are ways to help people with alcoholic denial and alcohol abuse issues. A person may consciously or unconsciously engage in addiction denial because they are struggling to accept the reality of their behavior. Recognizing signs in yourself or loved ones can initiate the process of recovery.

why are alcoholics in denial

If they’re not receptive, keep trying — and set boundaries to protect your own well-being. Anger and frustration can be tough emotions when supporting someone with AUD. Reminding yourself that you can’t “fix” your loved one — but you can be there for them — can help you cool off, says Elhaj. Sometimes, a person’s personality can influence their tendency for denial. Certain traits, such as independence and perfectionism, can add to a person’s hesitancy or reticence to seek help, says Grawert. People who are high functioning with a drinking problem “seem to have everything together,” says Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC, a certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor.

Getting professional help for an alcohol addiction

As the person’s drinking continues to worsen over time, the consequences related to alcoholism increase. Denial can persist for short or long periods and looks different for everyone. However, as addictive behaviors become more disruptive to a person’s life, it can be harder to deceive oneself and others and ignore what is happening. This article explores the signs of addiction denial and when to seek help. Sometimes, people feel afraid or uncertain about treatment. They might think it’s too expensive and time-consuming, or that it won’t work for them.

Of course, some people simply aren’t ready to stop drinking. Alcohol may be a big part of their social life and friendships, or a coping mechanism for trauma, mental health issues, and severe stress. Imagining a life without alcohol might feel too difficult and scary. Many people with alcohol addiction grapple with guilt and anger, which can lead to blame.

They tell themselves that treatment is for serious addicts, and they don’t belong in that category. Many people with the disorder are reluctant to seek rehab, partly because alcohol is a central part of their life. And they know that rehab could compromise their relationship with alcohol. Even if you are aware that your drinking has become a problem, it’s common to worry about what others might think. In a 2015 study, almost 29% of participants didn’t seek treatment due to stigma or shame.

Language of Denial

Or they may say they’ve only had one beer when they’ve actually had many more. It allows a person with an alcohol use disorder to dismiss all warning signs that their alcohol abuse has become a problem. Secondary denial is a form of denial that doesn’t come from the alcoholic, but from the people they surround themselves with. Whether it is a ‘drinking buddy’ or a loved one, these people echo the sentiment of the person struggling with addiction. Sometimes, these groups of friends can reinforce the alcoholic’s denial, and may actually provide their own chorus of denial to support the person with the alcohol addiction.

  1. Sometimes, these groups of friends can reinforce the alcoholic’s denial, and may actually provide their own chorus of denial to support the person with the alcohol addiction.
  2. Denial is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a refusal to admit the truth or reality of something.” In psychology, it’s a defense mechanism to avoid confronting a personal problem.
  3. Avoid criticizing and shaming, and focus on highlighting your love and concern.
  4. Many people with alcohol addiction grapple with guilt and anger, which can lead to blame.

Consider not drinking yourself (at least temporarily), says Kennedy. You, too, might realize that your relationship with alcohol is negatively affecting your life. And you might find that you feel healthier and happier without it. In short, “there’s not a single image of AUD,” points out Sabrina Spotorno, a clinical social worker and alcoholism and substance abuse counselor at Monument. A person that exhibits a number of these symptoms is likely to be struggling with an alcohol use disorder and would benefit from a treatment program.

How to Help a High-Functioning Person with Alcohol Use Disorder

Take our short alcohol quiz to learn where you fall on the drinking spectrum and if you might benefit from quitting or cutting back on alcohol. You may even find that if you continue to press the issue, your loved one gets angry. You may be called judgmental or nosy, or told to mind your own business. Anger and defensiveness suggest that your loved one has some awareness of a problem but is afraid to face it. Instead, she recommends seeking more formal support with Al-Anon or therapy to help you create boundaries and care for yourself.

Secondary Denial

Protecting, rescuing, and secondary denial are all ways that people close to alcoholics enable their addictive behaviors. When a loved one is engaged in alcohol abuse, watching them spiral out of control can cause inner conflict for friends and family members. For many who struggle with alcohol use disorder, it’s much easier to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. That way, there’s no need to make major lifestyle changes or face difficult emotions. They don’t have to open themselves to judgment or navigate the unknown challenges of treatment.