Denial is an unconscious psychological defence system, which functions to protect the addict from the intolerable and unacceptable awareness of being an addict.
What is so terrifying about addiction is that it forces the person's psychological mechanism to deny this reality:
• The addict may feel stigmatised at being labelled an alcoholic or an addict.
• The person may consider addiction to indicate a personality weakness or a moral degeneracy.
• The person may think that not being able to use alcohol or drugs is frightening.
• The person may not accept the concept of powerlessness and not being in control.
Until the denial is overcome, addicts are not lying when they say that they are not addicted. The denial of an addictive thinker is neither conscious nor wilful. The addict sincerely believes that she/he is telling the truth when they deny that they have a problem.
Most addicts arrive for treatment in denial. The primary purpose of the programme is to penetrate and dismantle the denial system, which prevents the chemically dependent person from accepting their illness. As long as the denial system remains in tact, the illness will remain active.
The turning point in the recovery process is to accept that one is an alcoholic or addict – which simply means that one has impaired control with respect to alcohol and drugs. In other words, the problem does not lie with the substance, but with the person. The difference between admitting one has a problem versus accepting that one is the problem is that the latter requires action.
The process of change from denial (loss of control) to acceptance (that one is an alcoholic/addict) has been compared to the process of coming to accept that one has been diagnosed as having a fatal illness, originally described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
One arrives for treatment in denial of one's addiction, which has allowed the problem to escalate over the years. This fact, when openly confronted, generates an incredible anger, for few people greet the news of an addiction and the implications thereof with much joy. Although, there is very often a sense of relief.
This is followed by a phase of bargaining contained in the "if... then" statements. This usually proves to be futile and only delays the inevitable. The next phase is one of depression/grief/bereavement where one comes to the realisation that one will choose to abandon one's addiction if one is going to survive. This is a time of mourning and usually when the addict is most vulnerable to relapse.
Finally comes acceptance. When acceptance that one is undeniably an addict or alcoholic occurs, the recovery process can begin. Acceptance requires surrender, which means both "I am beaten" and a surrender to a new way of life. Surrender requires humility, an attribute not easily identifiable in a using/boozing addict. Humility is the obverse to arrogance, and is the change that must precede any recovery process.
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