Addiction and Denial: Why Admitting You Have a Problem Is the Hardest Step

Drug Addiction Denial

Addiction, also known as substance abuse, is becoming increasingly problematic every year. National U.S. statistics show an ever-increasing trend in annual drug-related deaths over the last two decades. Drug-related overdoses have risen from less than 20,000 deaths in the year 2000 to a staggering 92,000 in 2020.

Despite the escalation in drug problems, social stigma still exists for substance abuse disorders. This may serve as a barrier, hindering people from seeking treatment. It’s important to realize how admitting to having an addiction can be the most difficult step toward recovery. But by doing so, you’re doing yourself a colossal favor.

Addiction and denial often involves people making excuses about their substance abuse. It distorts reality and self-awareness and results in continued substance use. Being aware of this can enable you to get past denial and seek the help you need, starting the recovery process.

What Is a Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder can be defined as a mental health disorder affecting an individual’s brain and behavior that makes them unable to control their substance use. In short, it’s substance addiction. Common substances of abuse include alcohol, heroin, methamphetamines, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines and many more.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use, more than 20 million U.S. citizens aged 12 and older grappled with addiction in 2019. This increased by more than one million from 2017. Additionally, 71% of these predominantly struggled with alcohol, a legal and socially accepted drug of abuse.

Despite the upward trend in national addiction behavior, stigma and negative social perception continue to deter people from treatment. They may avoid letting family members know about their addiction and seeking addiction treatment.

Causes of Drug Abuse

In contrast to common belief, addiction is not a choice. It’s caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors and the gene-environment interaction. The gene-environment interaction explains how genetics can be a risk factor for addiction.

  • Genetic factors. Genes are characteristics we inherit from our parents. Studies show that 40%-60% of the risk of substance abuse problems comes from genetic factors. This means addiction is largely biological —  not a personal choice.
  • Environmental factors. Environmental factors refer to everything we experience and encounter in our lives. People who experienced difficult childhoods, traumatic events or overwhelming life stress are at higher risk of developing an addiction. Our social environment can also be a prime cause for the development of certain addictions. This is especially true if our environments expose us to alcohol or drugs and explains why alcohol abuse is so widespread —  it’s legal, socially accepted and ritualized in society.
  • Gene-environment interplay. The gene-environment interplay is the interaction between an individual’s genes and their environment. It can impact the risk of developing alcohol or drug addiction. Environmental factors like peer pressure, stress and access to alcohol or drugs can increase the likelihood of abusing addictive substances. At the same time, certain genetic factors can make an individual more vulnerable to drug addiction.

This suggests that genes play a role in making some people more vulnerable than others. The exact mechanism by which genes and the environment interact to cause addiction isn’t understood. However, it’s clear that both factors are involved.

What Is Addiction Denial?

Why It's So Difficult to Admit You Have a Drug Addiction ProblemAddiction denial involves users having irrational beliefs about their addictive behavior. This renders them unable to accept reality. Overcoming denial and seeking addiction treatment can be difficult as it often involves having to tell family members that a drug use problem exists. Addiction denial prevents people from seeking the help of medical treatment facilities and activating their support system.

Why It’s So Difficult to Admit You Have a Problem

When it comes to drug abuse, addiction and denial can go hand in hand. People who engage in drug or alcohol use often have some self-deception about the negative consequences of their addictive behaviors. Addiction denial persists even when addictive behaviors lead to legal trouble, mental health issues and compromised health. So, what are some of the main reasons admitting you have a problem is so challenging?

Social Stigma

Addiction continues to endure negative public perception. And seeing as recovery requires cultivating a positive sense of self, this can be problematic for achieving ongoing sobriety. The fear of being judged by a family member can perpetuate the use of drugs or alcohol and make seeking treatment unattractive.

Users can feel guilty about their excessive use when around people who don’t use drugs the same way they do. This can lead the person to delay facing their addiction and live in continued denial about their problem. Accepting that there will always be social stigma and remembering that medical reviewers confirm addiction is not a choice can be helpful to overcome denial and seek professional medical advice.

Self and perceived social stigma can also influence people’s willingness to find an addiction therapist, join Alcoholics Anonymous or deal with their underlying issues. Common signs of denial include continuing to engage in drug or alcohol abuse, blowing things off as normal and being reluctant to engage in support groups because they don’t think a problem exists.


Self-esteem plays a huge role in the recovery process. If you have a substance use disorder, admitting the truth can be a threat to your self-esteem. This can perpetuate the denial of a problem and lead to continued engagement in addictive behaviors and reluctance to reach out. It’s important to remember that your addiction isn’t your fault. As discussed previously, addiction comes about as a result of genetic factors and environmental stressors.

It can be helpful to try to view your addiction as any other physical sickness. This isn’t an exercise in self-deception; this is what the latest evidence-based research says about it. Many peer-reviewed studies can confirm this, and you’ll hear the same thing from board-certified physicians.

Enablement From Others

Enablement is when others support your addiction. Whether it’s because they too engage in excessive drug and alcohol use or because they’re unaware of the negative consequences of drug addiction, any action that supports addiction counts as enabling. An enabler can be a close friend, family member or social group. To get past denial, it’s important to think for yourself, have self-awareness and recognize when you need help.

Overcoming Denial to Seek Recovery

Overcoming Addiction Denial Seeking Expert InterventionAddiction is a complex disease that can be difficult to recognize, especially in yourself. One of the most common signs of addiction is denial — an unwillingness or inability to accept the reality of the situation. A person may deny that they have a problem, making excuses or blaming others for their challenges. Denial may continue even when they’re faced with clear evidence that they need treatment. It can be a powerful barrier to recovery, but it’s important to remember that addiction is a treatable disease. With help, it’s possible to overcome denial and begin the journey to recovery.

Why Choose Us?

Behavioral Health Centers is a state-of-the-art addiction treatment center. We’re dedicated to treating adult patients with alcohol or drug addictions. We also treat mental health issues associated with addiction and adopt a dual diagnosis strategy when needed.

We use both holistic and evidence-based treatment therapies with cutting-edge medical technology and know-how. Our team of medically trained professionals can help you in the recovery process by identifying and treating underlying issues that might be leading you to drink alcohol or take drugs.  We’re a 100% nonjudgmental facility and believe substance use disorders are just like any illness that needs treatment and attention. We have a range of specialized therapy programs to help you overcome your substance use problems and get back to living a fulfilling life.