If you love an addict, chances are high you’ve doubted yourself. When they deny the addiction, you wonder if you should believe them. Addiction denial is powerful. Both the addicted person and their significant others often fight the label of “addict.” There’s an old and highly inaccurate belief that addiction is simply a matter of a weak will or moral failing. Who wants to saddle a loved one with that diagnosis? So you question and deny the addiction, right alongside them.
10 Addiction Denial Excuses & the Truths to Counter Them
For someone to get help, they have to recognize there is a problem. Sometimes it’s pressure from friends and family that finally moves them. Here are 10 common lies people tell themselves that represent denial in addiction. They’re probably saying them as a coping mechanism, but an addict in denial only delays addiction treatment.
1. “I can quit anytime I want.”
The ability to quit—on their own, whenever they want—is one of the most common claims of alcoholics and addicts. It’s hard to disprove. If you say, “Then quit,” they might say they don’t feel like it right now or it’s not the right time, but they could if they wanted to. TRUTH: “My loved one hasn’t quit. Whether or not they can is no longer the point. The level of substance abuse in their life is making life difficult and/or dangerous. I will not enable it.”
2. “I’m under a lot of stress. That’s the reason I’m drinking so much.”
Many addicts cite the need to destress for why they drink or use drugs. They might also claim they wouldn’t need to use, if…
- “I had a better job.”
- “My wife didn’t nag me.”
- “I wasn’t so financially stressed.”
TRUTH: “My loved one’s substance abuse is nobody else’s fault or responsibility. Substance abuse to deal with stress is still substance abuse. An addiction that develops during stress is still an addiction.”
3. “My drug use or drinking is my business. I’m not hurting anyone else.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Addicts are commonly moody, unpredictable and unreliable. Sometimes they cause ongoing stress and worry for the ones who love them. They may drive while intoxicated, hurt themselves or others or get into legal trouble. They put a burden on the healthcare system because of the impact addiction has on their body and brain. They aren’t as productive at work or as available as a parent as they could be without drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse takes an enormous financial toll on society and a big emotional toll on families and the addict themselves. TRUTH: “Everybody around them feels their addiction, even if they don’t know what it is. They walk on tiptoes to keep from setting them off. The ups and downs of their cravings and fixes prevent anyone from enjoying their company. Their ability to work and provide for themselves and others diminishes every day they go further down this path.”
4. “I only drink on the weekends.”
Binge drinking is a common form of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Unfortunately, it tends to be accompanied by even more denial than regular drinkers have. A person does not have to drink every day to have a problem with alcohol that requires treatment. According to the DSM-5, AUD can be diagnosed with just 2 of the following 11 criteria. Whether someone only drinks on the weekends or every day, they should ask themselves the following questions. In the past year, have they:
- Had times when they drank more—or for longer—than they intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Been sick or getting over other aftereffects?
- Wanted a drink so badly they couldn’t think of anything else?
- Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of their home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it caused trouble with their family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to them—or gave them pleasure—in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations during or after drinking that increased their chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, being in a dangerous area or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it affected their mental health or added to another health problem? Or continued to drink after having a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than they once did to get the effect they wanted? Or found that their usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, they had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?
The weekend-only drinker may answer “yes” to many of these questions. TRUTH: “There are scary consequences to drinking too much—ever. My loved one drinks too much on a regular basis, even if it’s not daily. They need help to stop.”
5. “That DUI was unfair. I wasn’t that drunk!”
DUIs are serious business. When a person drives a car under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are not 100% alert, regardless of how low their blood alcohol content (BAC) is. They are driving a lethal ton of metal, so they need to be totally in control. Consider this:
- At 0.02% blood alcohol level, inhibitions are already slightly loosened, which may impact driving.
- By 0.06 blood alcohol level (still within legal limits), all people experience judgment, perception and information process impairment. In a car, where the driver must respond quickly to unexpected situations, this level of impairment could produce a deadly combination.
- By the time someone reaches the legal intoxication level (0.08%), according to Dr. William R. Miller, “You believe you are functioning better than you actually are. At this level, you may start to slur your speech. Your sense of balance is probably off, and your motor skills are starting to become impaired. Your ability to see and hear clearly is diminished. Your judgment is being affected, so it’s difficult for you to decide whether or not to continue drinking.”
If your loved one received a DUI in a moment they thought they weren’t very drunk, they were. Most people cannot recognize their own drunkenness and impairment. That doesn’t make them safe. Occasionally, a normal drinker makes a mistake and drives after they’ve had one drink. Perhaps they did it on an empty stomach, have a low body weight or just didn’t wait long enough. If the BAC is well over the legal limit or if they get a second DUI, it’s no longer just a single case of poor judgment. Normal drinkers get the message after one DUI. The embarrassment and financial cost are enough to deter future incidents. An alcoholic doesn’t have the ability to make good decisions once they drink and will tend to get more DUIs. TRUTH: “Getting a DUI was one of the most irrational things they’ve ever done. They should know not to drive after drinking and may need to question what’s driving their choices. Addictions aren’t rational.”
6. “The doctor prescribed the medications, so it’s fine.”
Not all doctors prescribe with care, and not all patients are honest with their doctors. Opiates are the most commonly abused prescription drug, along with anti-anxiety and sleeping pills. If someone takes multiple pills that suppress the central nervous system, they are treading dangerous waters. It’s important to look at how many prescriptions your loved one takes that are classified as Schedule II, III or IV controlled substances. Taking multiple different mood-altering drugs is risky behavior. If they have multiple doctors writing prescriptions or go to different pharmacies to fill them, these behaviors should set off warning bells. TRUTH: “My loved one may or may not be honest with their doctor. If things don’t feel right about their medication use, they’re probably not.”
7. “I don’t drink in the morning, so I can’t be an alcoholic.”
This is one of those old myths, similar to the I-only-drink-on-weekends myth. When someone drinks or what time they start is secondary to:
- How much they drink
- How it affects their behavior and life
- How hard it is for them to stay abstinent from alcohol
See also the criteria for alcohol use disorder in Excuse #4. It takes only two affirmatives to indicate a disorder. TRUTH: “The thought of skipping his/her drink at __________ terrifies him/her. Even when they’re not drinking, they think about it and look forward to it.”
8. “I’m not that bad. I know people who drink a lot more than me.”
Comparing how one person drinks to another is a trap. Everyone has a different metabolism and various factors that influence how they are affected by alcohol. Your loved one’s concern should be how alcohol impacts their life. This addiction denial is akin to saying you’ve only had two heart attacks and you know someone who’s had four, so you really don’t have heart disease. TRUTH: “There are a lot of people with addictions and substance abuse problems. I don’t want my loved one to fall in that trap, no matter who else does.”
9. “I have a great job and never call in sick. I can’t have a problem.”
High-functioning addicts often get away with abusing substances a lot longer than other people. There are people who have a drug or alcohol problem but maintain an outward appearance of being just fine. Having a good job, lots of money or great kids doesn’t mean someone you care about doesn’t have a problem. Encourage them to examine the areas of their life that could be better if they weren’t under the influence. That’s a more accurate way to assess the situation. TRUTH: “My loved one is suffering, and that’s why they drink or use drugs. If they could face those feelings and stop, their life would be better. They also wouldn’t be at risk of spiraling down and losing the things they love.”
10. “I only drink beer and wine, not the hard stuff.”
Old myths die hard, and this is one of those stories alcohol addicts tell themselves so they can keep drinking. If someone drinks six beers every night, they may as well knock back six shots of whisky. They are equivalent. What your loved one drinks is not important; it’s how they drink and the impact it has on them, their family and their life. TRUTH: “They feel the need to drink. They drink regularly. They think about their next drink when they’re not drinking. Drinking is part of their routine. These are all signs of a problem.”
Let Go of the Addiction Denial
Nobody wants a drinking problem, and nobody wants a loved one to have a drinking problem. Nobody wants cancer either, but when you see signs of cancer, you seek treatment. The same should be true of addiction. Don’t let addiction denial, excuses and shame prevent you from recognizing the illness and getting help. Addiction is a sickness. Fortunately, it’s also treatable; millions of Americans are in recovery. They are proof that addiction can be fought. Contact Promises treatment center at [phone] today to take the first step or get advice about how you can help someone you care about.