How to Help Someone in Denial of an Addiction

someone helping a woman in denial of addiction

Helping someone in denial of an addiction can be difficult, but it may ultimately save their life.

A common aspect of substance use disorder is the feeling of denial. This doesn’t only apply to the person struggling with addiction, but it can transcend to their loved ones as well. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism and enables people to reject reality and bend it to fit their worldview.

It’s difficult to accept the truths of an illness like addiction because it’s still shrouded in stigma and negativity. This makes it more difficult for people who need help to come forward when they need help. Noticing the signs of denial in addiction is essential in breaking the barriers towards getting someone the help they need.

Signs of Addiction Denial


Phrases like “I can stop whenever I want” and “I have control over the situation” are common. These are phrases that friends and loved ones will hear over and over again as they attempt to help. The strong denial of the problem is powerful because they most often genuinely believe they can stop at any time, and their peers or family who join in on the denial may begin to believe it also.


Someone may start to realize that their substance misuse is getting out of hand and that others are noticing. They will often shift blame onto reasons for their behavior. This tactic is usually done subconsciously and may even hold some grains of truth. A stressful work schedule, tumultuous relationships and other common conflicts are sources of stress. The problem is that their solution is to misuse substances to “get away from it all” and cope.


Making comparative statements that lessen the severity of a person’s substance misuse is a prevalent denial tactic. They will frequently give the impression that they use less often and smaller doses than they do. Comments about how their substance of choice is “less harmful” than other drugs also minimize the situation.


When a person realizes that their substance misuse is not under control as they previously thought, many begin to rationalize. They justify their continued use by bargaining with themselves and others. They will think in terms of “one more time before I quit” and “I will use less, but I need it to function.” All of these thoughts will leave them in the same cyclical pattern as before.


Whether it’s intentional or not, those in denial of their addiction will instinctually lie and use sneaky behavior. It’s vital in concealing substance misuse or the severity of their condition. It’s a deep form of denial. They feel that as long as they can “keep up the act,” they have even their closest loved ones fooled. However, this is often an illusion. Those who are showing concern will begin to feel distrust and contention in the relationship.

Stages of Addiction Denial

Everyone struggling with addiction will face unique challenges, accepting that they have a problem. Still, there is a standard model of changes that many will experience.


The pre-contemplation stage is when self-denial is strongest. They don’t view themselves as someone who is struggling with mental health or addiction. Although their life may be crumbling around them, they continue to focus on obtaining and consuming their substance of choice. Little can be said to a person during this stage, as they don’t see the harm in their actions.


As their behaviors escalate and their actions lead to unwanted consequences, things begin to change. They may experience self-awareness that their substance use is the source of many of their misfortunes. During this time, it can be most beneficial to loved ones to approach them about their substance use. It’s a time when they will potentially accept that they need treatment.


The preparation phase is when a person struggling with addiction comes to a difficult realization. There’s a burgeoning sense of urgency to take steps to decrease their substance use or stop altogether.

Unfortunately, this is when individuals attempt to cease substance use on their own, which can be extremely difficult due to withdrawals. It’s important to note that while opioid addiction withdrawal may not be deadly, it can still be life-threatening. Those addicted to alcohol may experience fatal withdrawals


During the action phase, the person accepts the possibility of addiction. They have decided to make some changes. They recognize that they have a problem with substance misuse, even if they’re reluctant to accept that addiction is a chronic illness. Long periods of abstinence are common during this phase, although relapse is not uncommon either. At this point, the person will have hopefully enrolled in a treatment program that ensures long-term recovery.


Those who have entered the maintenance stage are working towards relapse prevention. They understand that their addiction is real and continually participate in recovery efforts. This often includes individual and group counseling and medication-assisted treatment. This stage can last anywhere from weeks to months and even years, depending on their commitment to sobriety.

Understanding Denial as a Barrier to Addiction Treatment

A woman who is in denial of being in addiction

No one wants to admit that their escape from troubles has become a problem, much less an addiction. Still, the addictive nature of drugs and alcohol can take over the brain’s functions and abilities to think rationally. It’s difficult for those with a developing addiction to think clearly about their actions most of the time. It’s not until they have to face dire consequences that they realize how bad things have become.

Breaking through addiction denial can be difficult, but our medical providers and competent staff at Middlesex Recovery want to provide the best quality of addiction treatment. Whether you are dealing with opioid use, alcohol misuse, or other substance use, we are here to help.

To learn more about getting started on the road to recovery, check out our helpful guide and contact us today with any questions.