Denial in Addiction: Before, During and Post Treatment

Denial, denial, the sneaky little devil that resides in our minds, puts blinders on our eyes and makes us oblivious to consequences of our actions. It is something that is obvious to others but we are unaware of. How many times have you heard yourself say “I’m fine” even when it is evident that you are not? How many times have you heard someone who has a drinking problem or a using problem say “I’ve got it under control”? How many times have you faked your way through the day, smiling and laughing with people, only to come home and feel numb or emotionally burnt-out? How many times has the consequences of your anger, anxiety, substance abuse or depression, sneaked up on you and caught you off guard? Denial is a defense mechanism that keeps us from the pain of facing our reality and our role in it. But it also keeps us from breaking our patterns and exploring real self growth. Denial is not something that we can overcome overnight. We can get better at catching our denial, by building more insight.  In this article, we are going to discuss the various forms of denial in different stages of addiction treatment.

Denial in Addiction

The job of denial in our psychology is a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism is an unconscious process which means we are not aware of it happening. It protects our conscious mind (known mind) from facing something in us or the world that can have a heavy negative impact on us. It defends us against a reality than we may not be able to cope with easily. Think of the defense mechanism of denial as blinders that we put on ourselves so that we only see what we can deal with and maintain whatever our unhealthy mechanisms are. Denial in addiction is a difficult process to break as the persons conscious mind is threatened by the idea of them being an addict and the negative consequences of the addiction. Denial can be about the habit, it’s effects or what one needs to do about the addiction. Through proper guidance, identification of denial manifestations and challenging them is the way to break out of denial and act on the addiction.

Pre-treatment Denial

Denial before treatment is one of the strongest defenses that an addict has that keeps him protected from his harsh reality. The person can be in total denial, where he or she simply does not see the consequences of their behavior and their unconscious keeps them oblivious to their unhealthy drinking. Or they may be in denial but still be able to recognize that there is some problem in their lives. They may attribute it to things other than their drinking or using such as financial issues, marital fights and so on. Or they may trivialize or minimize the drinking itself, saying that it’s not that bad, or both. Their denial may also manifest in such a way that they see that they have an issue but the are in denial about the consequences of their drinking. These are various ways that denial can work. Of course a person may see all the issues and consequences and still choose not to act on them. That is the denial of the need to act on their addiction. The thought is that one can get out of it without putting in any inner work or reflection. This kind of denial lasts for a long time, sometimes for years, before the consequences of the illness become too much and challenge the denial. Hence denial is a multi headed beast that can manifest in different ways.

Denial in Treatment

Once the initial denial is challenged, many people come into some or the other form of treatment. Many people looking for rehabs in India, go to Rehabilitation centers in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore to receive treatment. Some also go to outpatient clinics of psychiatrists or psychologists. And it is believed that once they’re in treatment there is no more denial. But that is not true. People can be partially in denial even during treatment, or slip back into denial at any given time in treatment. The old patterns of denial can come back or may not be destabilized enough. They may believe that they are now normal drinkers or drug users and can go back to moderate levels of substance use, when they are not. They may believe that the problem was not as big and the consequences can be managed. They may discard some treatment techniques, not take therapeutic process seriously or become complacent for the program. Overconfidence is also another way that denial sneaks back in.  The person, to transition from addiction to their healthy self, needs to work on themselves and incorporate mental health care into their lifestyle. Thus open mindedness, motivation and consistent work is necessary for recovery.

Post-treatment Denial

Patterns of denial can resurface even after treatment is over, within a few months or in some cases years into recovery. It may manifest as the thought that one isnt a recovered addict or wasn’t an addict to begin with. One may trivialize the issues that had happened due to drinking or using. The belief may also be that one will drink or use in moderation. One may think that they can now control their usage and not slip back into addiction. This may be true but for a relatively very small percentage of people. But for most, the compulsively drinking or using pattern returns. Especially when one stops putting in the inner work required. The most common reason for relapses is also complacency which is also a form of denial to stuck to the program. One feels they don’t need to actively working on their mental health.
The denial can also surface as the thought in such a way that one feels like recovery is done and dusted. Whereas recovery is a process, a conscious choice, a continuous lifestyle which one has to involve themselves.

Many people who take treatment from drug addiction or alcohol addiction go to Rehabilitation centers in India. Rehabs in Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Delhi provide efficient treatment combining the Twelve-step program and psychotherapuetic interventions. Identifying and overcoming denial is an integral part of any rehab’s treatment approach. At ZorbaWellness Rehabilitation Center, our team of counsellors, psychologists psychiatrists work on belief systems and thought patterns of an individual. This helps them  identify their denial and admit or accept the issues that they have. After all, if we accept something, we can start to go beyond it!

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