How to Know If You’re in Denial

I drank like an alcoholic for many years before I knew I had a problem. I drank at night, during the afternoon, during the day. I drank before advising sessions in college and at 8 a.m. Frequently, I drank to the point of blackout.

I had a problem. But why didn’t I realize it? Psychologists term what I exhibited as denial, or “ignoring unpleasant aspects of external reality, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are true.”

Scientific Studies Confirmed My Condition

Study after study has shown that a primary, and possibly the most important, psychological symptom of addiction is denial. These studies mostly focus on emotional awareness. Alcohol and drugs create such a strong emotional feeling that it blots out the rational notion that an alcoholic or addict has a problem.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous page 30 addresses the denial many alcoholics and addicts share:

“Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics,” the text reads.

“No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people.

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

The text goes on to say that this “delusion… has to be smashed.”

The Difficulty of “Smashing” Denial

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to smash the denial of having a problem with addictive substances. I drank for five years, before I came to after a blackout one night. That night was the first time I thought, “Man, I am an alcoholic.”

It was scary and difficult to confront that truth, to realize I was enslaved to a substance. But realizing and admitting I had a problem with alcohol paved my path to recovery and serenity.

Here are some guidelines for the active addict who wants to see if they may have a problem:

  • Has my drinking or using increased throughout the years?
    • Do I drink more than I plan or expect to? Chart your drinking or using. List the amount of the substance, the frequency of use, and the duration. Graph the results if necessary.
  • Do I take measures to control my drinking or using?
    • If so, what are they? Many alcoholics and addicts try to control their drinking or using through different methods. I tried switching between alcoholic substances, not drinking during the day, only drinking on weekends and so forth. What I didn’t know was that people who are not alcoholics or addicts don’t need to control their drinking.
  • Do you hide your drinking or using from friends or family in any way?
    • I hid my drinking from friends and family. I hid whiskey bottles in the closet, under the bed, behind the nightstand. I dumped my empty beer bottles into the trash at night—sneaking the trash bag out and carefully setting it in the bin to avoid anyone hearing the clinking of the glass bottles.

What Is the First Step to Smashing Denial?

I believe that the first step to shattering denial is to have knowledge of the characteristics of addiction and see if your behavior matches the characteristics.

Denial is a powerful mechanism and it stands in the way to recovery from addiction.

What are your thoughts about the role denial plays in addiction? Any solutions to smashing denial? Leave your comments in the box below!

Author: Chris T. is a writer and recovering alcoholic.