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Denial as a Coping Strategy for Alcoholism

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Denial as a Powerful Symptom of Alcoholism 

Chances are you likely have an idea of what coping is – we all have coping mechanisms we automatically use daily.

But did you know that denial can keep you alive?

Therapists and psychiatrists often talk of denial as if it is something terrible or unnatural. However often if you’re in denial, you’ll likely be trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something terrible happening in your life.

In the short term, denial can be a good thing as it can give you enough time to adjust to painful, stressful and distressing issues, like alcoholism.

However, as alcohol use disorder experts, we know that denial has a dark side and can become unhealthy quickly. Denial is a learnt behaviour. Whilst it may have helped you at the time it can outlive its usefulness.

Staying in denial can interfere with treatment and your ability to tackle life’s challenges. So let us help you move past alcoholism and denial.

Contact us here.

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Identifying denial and its purpose

Refusing to acknowledge that something is amiss is not wrong but rather a way of coping with emotional conflict, painful thoughts, threatening information, anxiety and stress.

Denial is not limited to alcohol addiction alone; you can be in denial about anything that opens you up to vulnerability or threatens your control.

What is denial?

How denial appears in someone with an alcohol dependency:

  1. Minimising: “It’s not that bad.” / “You’re overreacting.”
  2. Rationalising: “I’m stressed.” / “I’ve been promoted.”
  3. Self-deception: “Things are not as bad as they seem.”
  4. False agreement: “Ok, I need to cut back – this is my last drink.”
  5. Dismissive: “I don’t want to talk about it now.”
  6. Defensive: “It’s my life.” / “It’s none of your business.”
  7. Blame: “He made me so mad I had to drink.” / “It was just bad luck that I was caught.”

People in the grips of alcohol addiction will thrive off of denial to continue to engage in addiction behaviours regardless of the consequences. If this is you please call 041 214 5111 and ask to be assessed to see how we can be of help. We accept most health insurance policies.

Signs of denial

When in denial you:

  • Will not be able to acknowledge a demanding situation
  • Distance yourself away from the facts of the issue
  • Downplay any consequences that come with the problem
  • Will find continuous ways to justify your behaviour
  • Refuse to talk through the pain or promise to address it in the future
  • Complete avoidance of thinking about the situation at any cost (drinking)
  • Blame others, events or outside forces for causing the issue
  • Overreact emotionally to minor things and underreact to major things (lacking appropriate feelings)

A DMQ – Drinking Motives Questionnaire exists that helps users identify why they might be motivated to drink alcoholic beverages. The questionnaire can be typically helpful to understand if you are using denial as a coping mechanism and if it is fuelling your alcohol use.

However, if you prefer speaking to a real person, our addiction experts and therapists are available. In that case, we can approach this more proactively by helping you to identify an alcohol use disorder and outline a roadmap to sustained sobriety.

Contact us.

Have the courage to change

When denial is healthy

While refusing to face facts may appear unhealthy, it can sometimes be helpful.

When you’re in a period of denial, the mind can unconsciously absorb shocking events or information at a much more appropriate pace that won’t send you into psychological distress.

“Denial should only be a temporary measure — it won’t change the reality of the situation.” – Source.

However, denial should only be a short-term reaction. Although at the same time, it’s ok to initially deny the problem, once your mind has had enough time to absorb the possibilities, you should approach the situation more rationally.

When denial is harmful

  • When denial stops you from seeking help or treatment, it’s a problem.
  • The main symptom of alcoholism is denial, which impairs the drinker’s insight into their condition.
  • Therefore, not recognising that denial is holding you back means that an alcohol use disorder can quickly spiral out of control, impacting the user and their family negatively.

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Denial as a coping mechanism for alcohol addiction

When there is a lack of adaptive coping and coping motives, particular individuals might be at risk for heavier drinking.

Those individuals who validate high coping motives like denial of drinking may experience alcohol as a more powerful reinforcer after periods of stress.

Consequently, coping motivated drinking is a behaviour that will be reinforced through drinking during these stressful times as the individual experiences the negative emotions and sees a reduction in these feelings following alcohol use.

Moving past denial

Denial, dissociation, avoidance, idealisation, immersion and displacement are all forms of unhealthy, destructive coping – source.

Starting points:

  • Examine what you fear and how you feel, honestly
  • Put a name to your feelings
  • Allow yourself to express your emotions
  • Identify any irrational beliefs or behaviours
  • Participate in treatment, therapy or support groups

If you cannot progress in dealing with stressful situations like alcoholism on your own, then you’re stuck in the denial phase, and you need help.

Consider talking to a mental health provider like Smarmore Castle, who can also help you overcome alcoholism and teach you stronger coping mechanisms to keep you sober.

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Rehab will teach you coping mechanisms that encourage sobriety

Drinking to cope is more strongly associated with those who have not learned or do not rely on other adaptive coping mechanisms.

“It has been suggested that one reason coping motives may lead to problem drinking is that individuals who drink to cope may do so because they do not have other more adaptive ways to cope in their repertoire (Cooper et al., 1995).” – Source.

We help create positive coping styles

Here at Smarmore Castle, our medical professionals and therapists will help you overcome and manage stressful situations throughout your life in healthy ways.

Positive coping styles you can expect to learn in rehab include:

  • Immediate problem solving – fixing the primary cause of stress.
  • Root-cause problem solving – seeking to improve the underlying problem for good.
  • Benefit-finding – finding benefits and the good amongst the bad.
  • Spiritual growth – installing ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for emotional growth.
  • Adaptation – enhancing the human ability to adapt to any situation.
  • Altruism – helping you to help yourself.
  • Undoing compartmentalisation – showing you how to embrace thoughts and emotions to avoid mental discomfort.
  • Conversion – helping you to release the subconscious conversion of stress into physical symptoms.
  • Post-traumatic growth – showing you how to use the energy of trauma for good.

With the right therapy and support, those struggling with alcoholism can begin to accept their reality and take the ever-important steps to a safe and complete recovery.

Reach out – we can help.