Addiction | 4 min read

When a Loved One Is in Denial About Their Addiction

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On September 5, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On January 28, 2019

When a Loved One's in Denial About Their Addiction
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Drug addiction does not only affect the user. Friends and family are often dragged into the abyss of abuse. Members of the addict’s support group can find themselves playing roles they did not sign up for, and the repercussions of addiction can last for generations. It is a natural, loving reaction to want to alleviate this type of suffering. However, confronting the problem can be difficult due to the nature of addiction. Educating oneself on the nature of addiction and viable approaches toward a solution is key to providing genuine support for a loved one.

How Do I Know It Is a Problem?

There is no end to the scenarios in which an addict denies that there is a problem. Phrases such as “I can stop any time I want” and “I’m just using it to relax” are cliché. Sometimes, family members are being hypersensitive to their loved ones’ personal decisions surrounding their autonomy. More often, however, the issue is brought up due to persistent strife surrounding the use of the substances.

While there is a difference between substance abuse and substance addiction, the common hallmark of a problem is that it causes impairment in social relationships. Both work and family life tend to be negatively affected by the introduction of the substance. If your loved one is showing symptoms of a decline in quality of life – or is causing strife within the family due to being under the influence – there is likely a problem.

My Loved One Gets Angry When I Bring It Up

Anger and denial are common reactions to negative input from others. In the case of the addict, multiple factors may contribute to this reaction. Chances are, addicts are keenly aware that the situation is bigger than originally anticipated, and they are experiencing anxiety over the addiction. Shining a light on the problem is like ripping a bandage off of a wound, and the addict can feel a need to cover the exposed injury back up as quickly as possible.

The alternative to bearing the brunt of the addict’s anger is to remain silent about the issue. It can make knowing how to communicate your concerns difficult. It can help to utilize some common techniques for not allowing the emotional reactions of the addict to knock you off balance. Take a moment to relax before speaking on the matter, and prepare yourself ahead of time, knowing that your loved one is likely to respond in anger. Refute the emotional reactions with sound facts, and be aware that genuine change has to come from inside the addicts themselves.

What About Safety Concerns?

To beat addiction, your loved one needs to stay alive. This fact makes physical safety a priority. Being under the influence of substances can compromise good decision-making, and your loved ones may need you to set firm boundaries regarding your role in their safety. It is reasonable and prudent not to allow a person under the influence to access vehicles or other personal property. Their drug addiction is about them, but the decisions of those around them are equally important. Be assertive in setting reasonable boundaries surrounding your participation in enabling dangerous behaviors.

What Do I Do About Relapse?

There are many stories of rejoicing over the resolution of an addicted loved one, agreeing to get help, only for the family to suffer disappointment when the addict returns to the former behaviors. Drug addiction is not an easy problem to fix, as both physical and psychological factors for the addiction are often in play. The high instance of relapse illustrates this fact. Instead of focusing on the relapse, try focusing on the success of your loved one’s previous attempts. Small steps forward are better than none.

Feelings of shame and fear often accompany drug addiction. When family members focus on the relapse as a failure of character, the addict can find even more reasons to give up. The disease model of addiction suggests that instances of drug addiction relapse are similar to recurrences of any other health condition and can resurface after remission. Taking this perspective of your loved one’s situation can help to alleviate the feelings of resentment that can arise as a result of hopes being disappointed. In addition, the addict can benefit from your rational, positive regard toward the situation.

I’m Thinking About Holding an Intervention

Think twice before initiating one of those contentious sessions that are popularized on television. Anyone who has viewed the follow-up information from these shows knows that the long-term success rate is dubious, at best. Addicted family members who walk into such scenarios are likely to feel shocked, hurt, and defensive. These negative emotions are often what the drug abuser is seeking to avoid in the first place. Those addicted to substances may be pressured by such interventions to seek help initially, but the underlying factors for the addiction are unlikely to disappear without the user already being in a state of readiness for change.

What Else Can I Do?

All of this isn’t to say that doing some research into treatment for your loved one isn’t a good idea. Providing resources, such as numbers and locations for local treatment facilities, may not be appreciated at the time, but it can plant a seed of hope in the mind of the addict. When loved ones reach a state of being ready to quit, it can help them know where to go.

Support for the family members is just as important as treatment for the addict. While enduring the stress of a loved one’s addiction, know that resources are available for you. Organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer support for family and friends impacted by addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and seeking rehabilitation programs in New York, reach out to Ascendant today. We are experts in treating substance abuse and addiction disorders and can help you get on the right track. Long-term recovery is possible.

Was this article helpful? Follow our blog for more information about substance use, addiction, and recovery. Recent posts include topics such as the most addictive substances and mixing Wellbutrin and alcohol. 

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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