Denial is the experience that therapists and psychologists recognize in clients who cannot appreciate or accept in them what is apparent to others. It is a person’s inability to see that there is a mental illness or any psychological concern.
And this can be frequently true for those who experience addiction. When the cycle of addiction is in full swing and an individual continues to drink or use drugs despite the consequences it brings, denial is playing a large role. Yet, when a person who is drinking, for example, recognizes that his or her drinking led to unemployment and, for that reason, decides that he or she needs to stop, denial may no longer be playing a role.
Often, when an individual is in the throes of addiction, he or she may strongly feel the need to hide it. In many ways, hiding it includes hiding it from oneself, which is the denial that accompanies addiction. Sadly, the stigma of mental illness, including addiction, can have a significant effect on those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. And stigma can even play a role for those who are experiencing symptoms but who don’t want to say anything about it for fear of being judged. This is particularly true for those who were raised in a culture that stigmatizes and judges mental illness, such as the United States, and who later discover that they have a mental illness. Frequently, one’s first response is often denial, refusing to believe that they have anything wrong with them, and as a result, they might minimize their symptoms and avoid any indications that point to having a disorder.
Hiding psychological illness, especially addiction, can be dangerous. For example, mental illness can lead to either violence towards oneself, such as overdosing, or violence towards others, such as the shootings in recent years. For instance, on May 19, 2009, Kenny Baker took his life after a long battle with depression and anxiety. He was kind, softhearted, and a star swimmer. But he suffered from severe depression causing hospitalizations and medical treatment. He hid his diagnosis from friends saying that he had mononucleosis to explain his stays at the hospital. Despite treatment and a supportive family, he chose to end his life. Although Ken Baker did not have an addiction, his depression and anxiety led to taking his life.
In a way, denial is a form of taking one’s life, only it’s not a conscious choice. As mentioned earlier, denial can keep someone engaged in an addiction even while there is significant destruction to one’s life and the lives of those nearby. Although there are many harmful effects that arise from addiction, denial or the inability to see that there is something wrong can be like continuing to swim further from shore even though a dangerous storm is approaching.
Sometimes, men and women who suffer from addiction can recognize their need for an external source to stop the addiction cycle. They seek treatment because they realize that they themselves don’t have the inner strength or willpower to end their substance use. They recognize that it’s going to take much more than themselves to restore their well being. In these cases, the desire for substance abuse treatment might be there, but the stigma and fear of legal consequences may continue to get in the way. However, when it comes down to it, when an individual knows that he or she needs assistance, getting treatment and committing oneself to sobriety is the only thing that is going to end an addiction, regardless of what others think. The decision to finally get treatment is a choice that each person needs to make for themselves. However, sadly, denial get in the way of reaching the place where one recognizes that treatment is necessary.
Ways to cope with denial include making a strong network of support. It is common to have insight at certain times, while denial at other times. When the cycle of addiction begins to take over, allow your friends and family members to provide their support. You can even write out advance directives or create a treatment plan with a therapist in advance so that your wishes can be adhered to regardless of your mental state. Creating a plan ahead of time can keep denial at bay and accompany you on your path to health.
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