Understand Denial: Why can’t they see?

Maybe you have a loved one who you believe is struggling with addiction. But as they make excuse after excuse and other family members try to cover for them, you wonder how they can’t see what’s really going on. How can they not see what’s really going on? Well, like millions of others, you are witnessing the effects of denial.

What Is Denial?

Denial has been compared to a brick wall, but it’s more than that. The meaning of denial is more complicated than it sounds.

Denial is more than a refusal to acknowledge the truth; to your loved one struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, denial is a defense mechanism. It’s their excuse or way of avoiding pain and guilt. Denial is also one of the most difficult problems that alcoholic and drug addicts battle with—and its one of the most frustrating things for family and loved ones to understand.

Aren't Drugs & Alcohol The Solution, Not The Problem?

First, you need to understand that your loved one does not see the problem that is so obvious to us—their drinking or using. To the addict, the cause of all their trouble is everything and anything but their addiction. To them, drinking or using is the solution, not the problem. The problem is anything or anybody that gets in the way of their drinking—the kids, the job, you.

In essence, they think:

“I don’t have a problem with alcohol or drugs, and the things that are wrong in my life don’t have anything to do with my drinking or using.”

We don’t know exactly what causes denial, but specialists have noted components that are evident in denial. Among them include rationalization and a faulty memory.


Rationalization is the normal human response to a bruised ego. For most people, the hard facts can bring rationalization to an end. But for those struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, rationalization becomes a way of life. Everything is rationalized away, and the person is pushed further from reality and deeper into delusion.

A Faulty Memory

Denial is partly caused by changes in the brain that affect thought processes and emotions.

One example is repression—or the ability to repress negative memories. When part of the brain that controls memory and judgment is damaged, your loved ones will have difficulty remembering the bad things that happened when they are drinking or using. Instead of a blackout (which is the total loss of consciousness that occurs as a result of excessive drinking or drug use), repression is like a mental white-out: the ability to whiteout shameful or unwanted memories.

To make it even more difficult, your loved ones firmly believe they remember everything from when they were drinking or using—when in fact, they don’t. You can tell them that they stumbled around and slurred their words, but they don’t have any memory of that.

If you tell them the truth, they either forget it or scoff at you in unbelief. All they remember is that they were brilliantly witty and entertaining—and that it felt good.

So How I can Help My Loved One?

This is pretty bleak picture. I mean, how do you help somebody who is in denial? How do you offer a solution to someone who refuses to acknowledge they even have a problem? One of the purposes (and greatest challenges) of an intervention is to break down the wall of denial and present reality to your loved one. And a successful intervention can do both.

The Intervention Guide

We have compiled a FREE intervention guide to help you stage a successful intervention and help your loved one. Download the Intervention Guide now.


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