It’s a common trope that people struggling with addiction in their life often struggle with something else: denial. They’re prone to flat out denying that they have a problem, not seeking the help they need while continuously deteriorating in personality and life structure, hurting those around them, and causing strife between family and friends alike.
Some turn towards drugs afterlife has already taken a turn for the worse, turning an opportunity to improve into a cascading spiral of destruction. Others lead happy lives, slowly corroded by a growing addiction and the problems it brings along with it. While denial isn’t universal among those struggling with addiction, it is unfortunately common. There is a link between the two.
The simplest way to explain why denial is so common in addiction is that it’s common in life, to begin with. We’re prone to shaping our reality as we so please based on the information we’re given – yet sometimes, when the facts are a bit much to handle or when a detail sticks out that goes against our ideas and theories, we ignore to keep up the façade that everything’s fine.
Often enough, people who struggle with both addiction and denial know perfectly well that they have a problem. The only question is how far they’ve convinced themselves that they don’t. And even if someone walks around fully believing they’re fine, it only takes a little bit of earnest soul searching to realize that you’re losing control over your life.
There are a few reasons why addiction drives people to deny the problem. First, it’s a scary problem to have. As a society, addiction isn’t particularly uncommon – alcoholism, prescription abuse, heroin addiction, and other forms of addiction are all heavily stigmatized and associated with people lacking willpower or in states of emotional instability and weakness. While it’s true that mood disorders like depression drive up the chance of an addiction developing, it’s also true that anyone can become an addict. Judging addicts or trying to categorize people based on what they’re addicted to rather than who they are only doing harm, and no amount of good – and it also drives people away from seeking treatment even privately out of fear of being found out.
In other cases, aside from the fear of the label, there’s also the feeling that despite the clear symptoms of addiction, many struggling with addiction have this fantasy that they could stop at any time. It’s only when they truly attempt to that they discover how far the issue goes, and that’s when they either really need help or all the mental fortitude they can muster.
Denial isn’t flat out lying to yourself – it’s making small mental gymnastics to entertain a version of the truth that best suits you, stretching further until that version doesn’t correspond to reality at all. Think to rationalize, repressing memories and critical thoughts, deceiving yourself, and minimizing the dangers of your actions.
Because of how addiction hijacks the brain’s reward system, it’s easy to lie to yourself under the influence. Yet denial can be broken.
Like with addiction recovery, overcoming denial requires being able to overcome the need to lie to yourself. Removing any excuse for addiction to continue is like removing any excuse for a lie to continue – you must be convinced that the best thing for you is to fight the addiction. That means seeing the opportunities in addiction recovery and seeing the options you have towards getting better. It means understanding that addiction isn’t a mark of weakness or bad character, but a challenge, one you can overcome and defeat, one you must overcome to live a proper life.
Of course, you don’t have to overcome denial alone. Interventions exist for that very purpose – letting families and friends work together to help someone realize that they’re hurting others, themselves, and their chances at happiness. It’s best to consult with a therapist or residential treatment facility before scheduling an intervention, to create a list of viable options to convince your loved one that you’re ready to support them in what will be a real attempt towards recovery. It’s understandable that watching someone destroy themselves is torturous – taking a proactive stance is the best thing a family member or friend can do to help their loved one.
Staying in Recovery
There is no straightforward way to stay in recovery, other than being consistent about sobriety – that means suffocating every possibility for addiction to make its way back into your life. Once you begin the fight against addiction and realize the reasons for which you might’ve gotten addicted in the first place, it’s up to you to work on yourself and fortify your life against any need for addictive behavior. While that does mean abstaining from drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and practically every other vice, it does not mean letting yourself drown in a swirl of monotony.
Life can be extremely exciting without the use of drugs. It just takes a little inventiveness and a lust for new things. With some curiosity, you can take on new challenges in life, pursue your passion and make money with it, build that cabinet you always wanted and refine your woodworking, get started on that book, or even run your first marathon.
Whatever it is that tickles your fancy and keeps you focused, you need to use it to channel your stresses and remove the possibility of relapse by instead adopting a strategy of bad habits and negative coping mechanisms to distract you from the tough times in life.
The fact that life gets hard is inarguable – and for many straight out of rehab, the sudden change is so drastic that they need to enlist help. Outpatient programs help anyone struggling with recovery stay on track and figure themselves out without their addiction, so they can stay sober while looking for a job, getting back into school, and generally getting situated. But when it comes to maintaining your recovery past the early stages after residential treatment, the only answer is the one you choose for yourself.