Denial, secrets and lies – in active addiction, it’s easy to fall into the trap of hiding what’s really going on. Whether it’s denying an addiction outright, justifying harmful behaviour or covering up mistakes, addiction and its consequences can be very difficult to face.
In Britain, there are millions of people in active addiction and millions more relatives and friends who are affected by a loved one’s addiction. So why, when addiction is so common, do so many addicts cover up what is happening?
In this blog, we’ll look at why addiction can be so hard to admit. What are the best ways for overcoming denial in addiction recovery? If you’re ready to get help with your addiction, please get in touch with the Addiction Helper team. Our advisors don’t judge what you have done in active addiction, nor are we concerned about how much or how little you use. We just want to help you find meaningful and sustainable addiction recovery.
Why Does Denial Play a Part in Active Addiction?
There are many reasons why people in active addiction avoid reality – including psychological, cultural and social factors. Denial of addiction and of the painful circumstances surrounding an addiction affects most addicts at some stage. Here are five reasons why.
Denial preserves and prolongs active addiction
Denial can be conscious or unconscious thoughts or actions, to avoid facing the truth about active addiction. For example, a problem gambler might play down serious losses, telling himself that he can afford to lose the money, so there’s no real harm. He tells himself he will stop gambling if he can’t pay the bills. His denial allows the addiction to continue.
As a regular habit progresses to an uncontrollable addiction, there’s usually a phase where addicts cannot accept they have lost control of their use. It’s about trying to hold on to the illusion of choice. An alcohol addict, for example, might switch from drinking wine to spirits, telling her or himself that wine causes all the memory blackouts and they handle vodka much better. By doing so, they prolong the addiction to alcohol.
Denial can be deliberate or premeditated – such as lying to a colleague about using cocaine at work or hiding alcohol around the house. Usually, it’s not intended to be malicious or hurtful to others, although friends, family and colleagues undoubtedly suffer when addicts are in denial.
For most people in active addiction, it’s very frightening to accept the complete loss of control over a substance or an addictive process. In this sense, denial is a faulty coping mechanism, to shield oneself from the extent of an addiction.
Fear of negative consequences
What propels many addicts to deny their addiction is fear of the consequences of telling the truth. If you’re completely honest about your addiction, will it lead to unwanted outcomes?
For example, if your boss confronts you about repeated absence, will you lose your job if you admit taking drugs? Or if you admit your porn addiction, will your partner walk out? Will you still be able to teach or practise as a nurse or lawyer, if colleagues find out how much you drink?
Many people in active addiction have these kinds of fears, which are usually unfounded or magnified. In fact, you’re much more likely to end up in trouble if you avoid your addiction, than if you face up to it.
Shame about addiction
Do you worry what your best friend will think of you, if she knows how much you’ve lost on slot machines? Is it hard to look in the mirror, when you’re coming down from cocaine? Are you embarrassed about things you’ve done while drinking, such as gossiping about a close friend or sleeping with someone you don’t like?
Many addicts try to disguise, minimise or hide their addiction because of shame. Most people don’t want to admit they are an alcoholic, a heroin addict, a gambler or a sex addict – particularly when they haven’t yet experienced life in recovery.
Shame about addiction is reinforced in popular media too. Negative stereotypes around drug users, salacious stories about sex addiction or sweeping judgments about alcoholics – these kinds of messages in popular culture can make it hard for people to admit what’s going on.
Unsupportive or misinformed friends and family
If your friends and family don’t understand the disease of addiction, they can find it hard to understand why you don’t just stop. If addiction is causing you so many problems, why can’t you walk away for good?
This kind of thinking can seem perfectly logical and straightforward to people who aren’t addicted. It’s what they believe they would do, if a habit spiralled out of control – so why can’t you?
By definition, addiction is the repeated use of a substance or process, to the point where you have lost control of how much or when you use. It’s a progressively destructive illness that usually gets worse without help. Without the right support to quit an addiction, denial can sometimes feel easier or safer – especially if family and friends are very disappointed or hurt by your actions.
In many sections of society, addiction is still a taboo
In many cultures and communities, addiction is not openly discussed.
In certain faith groups, for example, alcohol use is frowned upon or prohibited – so there can be enormous pressure to hide an alcohol addiction.
In family systems, there can be historical silence around addiction. If your Dad’s substance use was never talked about in the family home, then you’re more likely to cover up your drinking and drug taking. This denial can be passed down the generations unless effective addiction treatment breaks the cycle.
Sex addiction is often misunderstood as deviant or predatory behaviour – when it is just as likely to develop within a long-term relationship, as it is to manifest in having sex with multiple partners.
Porn addiction is often secretive because of cultural taboos around porn use. People don’t tend to talk openly about using porn, so if they get addicted it’s even harder to admit and seek help.
There’s also a significant stigma for mothers who are addicted – who do you turn to for confidential and non-judgmental help when you’re pregnant or you’ve just given birth? How can you be sure your child won’t be taken away from you?
In friendship groups, using cocaine might be deemed acceptable, but using crack cocaine might be seen as dirty or extreme. If you get addicted to crack but your friends don’t approve, it will feel harder to be honest about what’s going on.
Overcoming Denial in Addiction Recovery – 5 Suggestions
Get professional addiction help
Skilled addictions therapists understand the nature of addictive disorders, including the tendency to deny the full extent or harms of addiction. They will understand what you’re going through and help you break through your denial.
Full immersion in a residential rehab programme – even for just a few weeks – can achieve the same progress as months or years of outpatient addiction counselling.
Talk to peers with personal experience of addiction
It probably won’t help much if you confide in a friend who sips the occasional shandy about how alcohol is destroying your life. They are likely to suggest that you cut down your drinking, keep a drink diary or get a new hobby. While these suggestions might help an average drinker, addicts usually struggle to moderate with these kinds of techniques.
It’s much easier to accept the truth about your addiction when you talk to other recovering addicts and benefit from their experience.
Let go of future worries
If you’re addicted, your only priority is to get help as soon as possible. Concealing an addiction because you’re worried about what might happen will only lead to more problems now.
If it helps you to take action towards your recovery, just think about what you have to do right now. Let go of the ‘what ifs’ and put your health and wellbeing first.
Share your secrets, wisely
Is there something you’re really afraid to talk about – especially anything that keeps playing on your mind? In order to recover from addiction, it’s important to get help from trusted professionals or peers, particularly with things you find painful or distressing.
Initially, you could speak in private to an addictions therapist about anything that’s weighing on your mind – if you choose to go to residential rehab, you’ll have the opportunity to work 1-2-1 with skilled counsellors.
As you begin to share secrets in a healthy way, you’ll discover the relief that comes from releasing suppressed emotions, as well as good ideas to help solve your problems.
Reframe your attitude to addiction
Understanding addiction as an illness can help break down the barriers to getting help. If you are constantly beating yourself up for your addictive habits, then you’re probably feeling some underlying shame about addiction.
Treating yourself kindly, as you would any other person who is ill, can help you to accept the support you need to recover.
Please call or message the Addiction Helper team, to break free from denial and overcome addiction. We are here to take your enquiry.