When a friend or family member is struggling with addiction, it’s natural to want to help – even when they push you away. Getting pushed away is common, especially when the individual suffering from addiction is in denial.
Denial is the number one reason an addict refuses help from friends, family members, and treatment centers. It’s difficult for many addicts to accept that they’ve got a problem. It’s even harder for them to be vulnerable enough to admit to others that they need help.
Accepting help highlights the fact that they aren’t in control of their own life. This state of uncertainty is a scary place to be. It’s also a place that amplifies feelings of shame and guilt of being unable to stop engaging in their addiction.
Some people are so deeply in denial that they pretend they aren’t indulging in their addictions at all, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, an addict who believes his or her own lies is much harder to reach than one who is actively willing to seek help.
An addict in denial will blame other people and outside circumstances for their situation – even people who try to help. Most people jump ship at this point because it’s not easy to deal with someone who’s so combative all the time. Those who stick around keep themselves at a distance to protect themselves.
Addiction affects millions of people
According to American Addiction Centers, approximately 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance abuse disorder in 2014. Of that number, 17 million abused alcohol while 17.1 million abused illicit drugs. Some 2.6 million people had both an illicit drug and alcohol use disorder. That figure doesn’t include the millions of friends and family members directly affected by their loved one’s addiction. Children of addicts are especially affected by parents with addiction problems.
When you’re a friend or family member of someone suffering from addiction, you have the potential to intervene to help them get their life back. The biggest question is how to reach them when they don’t want to be reached or are in denial.
You can’t be direct with addicts in denial
If someone is in denial, they’re going to perceive attempts to help them as threats, which can sometimes elicit a violent response.
To reach someone who is combative, you can’t use everyday logic or reasoning. When you try to get an addict in denial to “face the facts” of their addiction, they become defensive and angry because you’re contradicting the one belief they’re clinging to for survival – the belief that they don’t have a problem. Forcefully attempting to make them accept their addiction is subconsciously perceived as a threat to their survival. This induces the fight or flight response, and from there, it’s an uphill battle.
Reaching an addict in denial requires building a new relationship
In order to reach someone in denial, you can’t be direct or blunt. You’ve got to genuinely work your way into their psyche as someone they can trust. Since most people use drugs and alcohol to escape an underlying depression, one of the best ways to gain someone’s trust is to give them the space to share openly without the fear of being judged and made wrong. Essentially, you need to rebuild your relationship with them from a place of absolute allowing.
You’ve got to employ a different method of communication that speaks directly into their listening. That method of communication is the absence of judgment, and complete focus on listening to the individual. Not just hearing the words they speak, but being an empty space for them to share.
At first, they may not share anything about their addiction. They may only share parts of their life they feel contribute to their depression. You can fully expect them to blame everyone and everything outside of themselves for their situation including their parents, exes, the system, and even the government. However, allowing them the space to share openly (no matter what they say) is your ticket to earning their trust. This may eventually lead to their willingness to address their addiction, which opens the door for you to help.
Helping an addict in denial happens gradually
When someone is in denial, the aim is to get them to a place where they make the decision to talk about their addiction. Once they’ve chosen to address their addiction, there won’t be so much resistance to your efforts to help. By no means will it be an easy feat, but if you’re willing to take the time to build a relationship of trust, that could be the contributing factor that leads to their eventual recovery.