DENIAL AND ADDICTION
Denial plays an important role in addiction. Addicts are notoriously prone to denial. Denial explains why drug use persists in the face of negative consequences. Addiction may often result in the loss of a job, or health, or a family. If an addict remains ignorant of the negative consequences of their actions, then these consequences cannot guide their decision-making.
What Is Denial?
Denial is a state where you deny or distort what is really happening. You might ignore the problem, minimize people’s concerns or blame others for any issues. In terms of addiction, whether it’s to alcohol or gambling, denial is a powerful coping mechanism to delay facing the truth.
Denial is very common, particularly in those struggling with addictive behaviours. No one wants to identify as an alcoholic, drug abuser or gambling-addict; denial allows them to make the reality more flattering.
Behaviours Associated with a State of Denial :
In denial, a person may resort to various behaviours, including:
Minimizing: If the addiction is brought up, the person may act like you’re blowing things out of proportion or exaggerating. He or she may say things like “it’s not that bad” or “people do much worse than I do”.
Rationalizing: The addicted person will rationalize his or her addiction, saying he/she is stressed and needs a little help getting through this period or that he/she’s earned a reward for her hard work.
Self-Deception: Self-deception is a powerful denial mechanism where the individual convinces himself that things aren’t that bad or as severe as they really are.
Addicts use denial in order to continue engaging in addictive behaviours. Continued denial can cause destructive consequences, from health issues to harmed relationships.
Rational beliefs are formed on the basis of solid evidence and are open for appropriate revision when new evidence makes them less likely to be true. It is now well-established that we are prone to various cognitive biases that have powerful influences on how we make decisions. For example, the confirmation bias causes people to embrace information that confirms their pre-existing narratives. People hold certain beliefs (often unconsciously) in part because they attach value to them.
Addiction can also be a source of terrible shame, self-hatred, and low self-worth. For an addict, it can be terrifying to acknowledge the harm one has done through one’s addiction- to oneself and potentially to others one cares about. When addicts are high, their fears of inadequacy and unworthiness fade away. Users often report a sudden dissociation from self. For example, alcohol and heroin are often sought out due to their ability to numb emotions.
Why Do Addicts Continue to Remain in Denial ?
Admitting the negative consequences requires one to end the behaviour causing these consequences. However, quitting itself will bring pain and distress. Denial, therefore, protects a person against this negative experience by denying the reality of one’s situation, when doing so would cause much psychological pain and distress.
There is also evidence suggesting that addicts lack the knowledge about the negative consequences not out of denial, but because of impairment in insight and self-awareness. Chronic drug abuse has been recognized to be associated with impaired self-awareness (dysfunction of the insular cortex), which manifests as denial of the severity of addiction and the need for treatment. For example, only a small fraction of heavy drinkers admit they have a drinking problem. This is a reason why some people keep drinking even as they realize that the habit is destroying their lives.
Addicts also fail to plan for the future. Addicts are temporally myopic. That is, the future consequences are not weighed in comparison with the present benefits. The benefits of drug use may be clear and immediate, while the costs are typically delayed and uncertain. They tend to prefer drugs because, at the moment of choice, they value drugs more than they value a possible but uncertain future reward (e.g., health, relationships, or opportunities).
In summary, denial is central to the explanation of why addicts persist in using despite evidence of harmful consequences. The anxiety associated with thinking about the consequences may in some circumstances lead addicts to repress or deny, news about their addictions. Denial alleviates anxiety. Acquiring causal knowledge of the negative consequences of drug use must, therefore, be seen as an important step in recovery. Indeed, the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that you have a problem and begin to seek out help. Since individuals use denial to protect themselves from psychological pain, the substance abuser needs to be given new tools for coping effectively with that pain.
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