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Denial - A Symptom of Alcoholism?

As Alcoholism Progresses, So Does the Denial

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Updated June 09, 2014

Alcoholic Denial
Sam Diephuis Collection/Stone/Getty Images
One of the most frustrating factors in dealing with alcoholism, as a relative, friend or professional, is it is almost always accompanied by a phenomenon known as "denial."

In the long path the alcoholic takes toward mental, physical and moral decline, usually the first thing to go is honesty. He simply lies about his drinking. Little lies at first.

I only had two... I haven't had a drink in a week... I don't drink as much as he does...

As the alcoholic begins to drink more, and more often, he begins to hide this fact from those around him. Depending upon his circumstances he may drink openly, but usually he will conceal the amount he drinks, by not drinking around those who are closest to him.

If someone tries to discuss his drinking with him, he simply refuses to talk about it, or dismisses it as not a real problem. After all, he's a big boy now and he can drink if he wants to, it's nobody else's business.

Clues To a Problem

But these simple acts of denial, lying about his drinking or refusing to discuss it, are clues that the alcoholic himself deep down inside knows that he has a problem. If it's not a problem, why lie about it to anyone? To protect them?

But the true alcoholic, the person that has the disease, covers up and denies his drinking out of his own feelings that there is something different or "wrong" about it. Somewhere inside he realizes that his drinking means more to him that he is willing to admit.

As the disease progresses and his drinking begins to cause real problems in his life, remarkably the denial likewise increases. Even though his sprees have gotten him into some real trouble, he denies it has anything to do with his drinking. Some say this is purely a defense mechanism.

How is this possible? Usually by the time the disease has gotten to the crisis point, he has developed a support system of family and friends who unwittingly enable him to continue in his denial.

Because they love the affable, clever and witty alcoholic, they act to protect him by covering for him, doing the work that he doesn't get done, paying the bills that he doesn't pay, rescuing him from his scrapes with the law, and generally taking up the responsibilities he has abandoned.

Protecting the Alcoholic

He can't come in to work today, he's got a, er, virus... We've got to get him out of jail, he'll lose his job! Then what will we do... It was my fault, officer, I said some things I should not have said...

By doing these things, they are protecting the alcoholic from the consequences of his own actions. He never has to feel the real pain caused by his drinking. They rush in to put "pillows" under him so he doesn't hurt himself in the fall. Consequently, the alcoholic never finds out how it feels to fall.

Although drinking has placed him in a helpless and dependent position, the alcoholic can continue to believe he is still independent because he has been rescued from his troubles by his well-meaning family, friends, co-workers, employers and sometimes clergymen and counselors.

The roles these enablers play to "help" the alcoholic can be just as obsessive and harmful as the alcoholic's drinking, but that is a story for another day.

With these enabling devices in place, the alcoholic is free to continue in the progression of his disease, with his denial intact, until he perhaps reaches the point of hitting bottom, at which point even the most dedicated drinker must finally admit there is a problem. But there is no way for him to ever hit bottom when it's always covered with pillows.

Related Video
What Is Denial?
What to Expect at a First AA Meeting
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  5. Denial, Enabling
  6. Denial as a Symptom of Alcoholism

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