How Do You Help an Alcoholic Family Member in Denial?
The risks of alcoholism are well-documented and understood by most of the population, yet addiction continues. Even when the links between alcohol abuse and specific negative consequences are clear, some people will continue to drink and insist it isn’t a problem. Denial is a force as strong as addiction for some people, and it’s the weapon they use to protect themselves from a painful reality.
Why Alcoholics Are in Denial
The negative stigma about alcoholism has created a stereotype no one wants to identify with. Even in the throes of addiction, we tend to see our ideal selves rather than the truth. Most people can’t look in the mirror and see the image of the alcoholic as it was created in their imaginations from books and movies. Alcoholics may be willing to admit they drink a lot, but they have a hard time accepting they’re addicts.
Most people don’t want to accept that they have any alcoholics in their families, either. We explain Grandpa’s bad behavior or Aunt Sally’s slurred speech at dinner to protect children from the reality of alcoholism. If you grew up in a family with alcoholics, you might not be aware of it because it was hidden from you. Your behavior may not be different from your relatives, so how could that make you an alcoholic?
Denial is one of the strongest defenses we have against change. No matter how bad the current situation is, we often fear change more than anything. By remaining in denial, an alcoholic doesn’t need to face the unknown. You’ll find alcoholics let go of denial as they’re ready to embrace change.
How to Deal With Denial in Addiction
People in denial about their alcoholism are fearful and ashamed. Denial is the defense they use to protect themselves from ridicule, guilt and change. Many alcoholics in denial believe their own arguments, though no one else does. Often, an alcoholic is the last to admit there’s a problem. Everyone around them can see it, but they still hold onto their denial.
Breaking through the denial isn’t easy, but it’s the first step in overcoming addiction. You can’t fix something until you recognize it’s broken. Here are a few ways to get around the denial of addiction:
– Offer Agreement: An alcoholic in denial is poised for a fight. When you argue with them, they pull out their denial. If you were to take their side of the argument, they might not need denial. Try agreeing with their argument about the problems in their life and see if you can lead them to admit alcohol is a problem they need help with.
– Show Them the Key: It’s easy to talk about the problems of alcoholism, but the solutions often seem impossible. Alcoholics see themselves as victims of the circumstances in their lives. By showing them they have the solution, you may be able to get them to take advantage of it. The solution begins with admitting the problem.
– Ask for an Explanation: If your loved one isn’t an alcoholic, then what caused them to fall and break their ankle? Let them know you want to understand why so many things are going wrong in their life and ask for an explanation. When they can’t explain themselves or don’t remember what happened, the denial may start to fall away.
You will have to get past the denial before you can deal with addiction. Holding your loved one responsible for his own actions and the consequences could help reduce the strength of his denial for the fact that he is an alcoholic.
What Is a Highly Functional Alcoholic?
High-functioning alcoholics can live in denial forever. They equate their ability to complete certain tasks in the day as evidence they don’t have a problem with alcohol. Most functioning alcoholics would tell you they never miss a day of work or show up late with a hangover, so they must not have a problem.
A highly functional alcoholic appears to live a double life. In one, they’re responsible and sober, never missing a birthday or rent payment. In the other life, they’re a fall-down drunk whose alcohol consumption continues to increase each year. A high-functioning alcoholic doesn’t seem to fit any of the stereotypes.
The important thing to remember is that addiction isn’t measured by your ability to hold down a job or uphold family responsibilities.
How Do You Convince an Alcoholic to Get Help?
First, recognize the only alcoholic you’re responsible for is yourself. You can try to help a friend of a loved one get help for an addiction, but ultimately that person must take responsibility for their own actions and choices. Here are some ideas for convincing an alcoholic to get help:
– Sober intervention
– Social proof intervention
– Ask a former alcoholic to help
– Talk to them rather than at them
– Considering the reasons for the person’s denial to get help
Convincing an alcoholic family member to get help isn’t easy. When someone is addicted, their senses of logic and reason are distorted. Instead of making it easy for your loved one to continue living with the addiction, require them to take responsibility for themselves. You can also reach out to the compassionate professionals at Tranquil Shores to learn more about treating addiction through denial.
*Updated November 1, 2017