How Denial Feeds Addiction

People outside of substance abuse often view denial as a defiant and willful act. Though this may sometimes be the case, the roots often go deeper. For many people who struggle with addiction, something else likely came first. This may be the first piece they are denying. Often, the roots of denial lay in unresolved trauma.

The Effects on Self-Esteem

People living with denial may find that their self-esteem is continually the target of attack. Each time someone tells them they are doing something wrong or they begin to feel self-doubt, it can make them feel bad about themselves. This constant feeling of being put down will force resolve and push people further into denial.

Denial and Addiction

When a person is stuck in a denial loop, they end up without any means of exiting the orbit of addiction. The cycle cannot be broken without a clear acceptance of responsibility.

What people do not consider is that often, when an individual has unresolved trauma, their first instinct is to deny that something is wrong. This denial is actually a form of defense. By acting as though the trauma never existed, they can continue with their lives.

The problem arises when this continuation results in substance abuse and mental health disorders. When a person bottles up their feelings and, in some cases, their accountability, it does not go away. It simply festers and grows until they find themselves mired in a life that they cannot accept. They then turn to denial for self-preservation.

The way this eventually plays out is that the individual becomes trapped in their substance abuse. In fact, they may find that they require higher amounts just to hold back a building, inevitable emotional wave on the horizon. This feeling of impending doom may result in overdoses and/or increasingly erratic behavior.

Family and friends will begin to see these changes but may be unable to do anything to stop them. The denial will only get stronger and will work against the person by further pushing loved ones away. Anyone trying to help will be perceived as a threat, and that same misguided need for self-preservation will once again kick in.

When Denial Finally Breaks

Following an overdose or other major event, an addict will come to realize that they can no longer deny the presence of addiction. At that moment, they will need assistance more than ever. The people that love them, friends and family, can take this as an opportunity to intervene and have the individual placed in detox/rehab.

This sounds like an easy process, but denial has a way of sneaking back in. For some, there may be multiple breaks where the person once again circles the wagons in self-defense. When this happens, it can often lead to relapse.


There is always the possibility of relapse for people who have been through addiction and even through a rehab program. One thing that can lead to relapse is when someone thinks about going back to illicit substances.

Their first inclination may be to stick to their sobriety and continue to attend therapy and support meetings. However, depending on circumstances and needs, the urge to use may become too strong to avoid. For people who have preexisting addictions, even a small amount of use can be considered a relapse. The problem is that even a small amount is likely to lead to regular use.

One fundamental fact about relapse denial is a fear of being found out. Denial can come from the shame of feeling that they have made a huge, intractable error. They may believe that if they relapse, it means they will never be able to come back.

If you know someone who has denial about a relapse, it is important to show that you have not given up on them. Essentially, approach their denial differently than the first time around. With a relapse, the denial may be stronger because there is a new angle of shame. They may believe they have let themselves down. It may even feel that they’ve let others down as well. Perhaps their time in rehab was transformative, and they are angry at the world for letting this relapse happen.

When this denial is confronted, it should be met with kindness and understanding. The fact is that these people admitted to their problems and went through the rehab process. Sobriety is not an easy journey; those taking the first steps should be applauded for it.

Relapse denial is also about continued self-preservation. If someone can talk themselves into believing that there is no harm in a relapse, regardless of how destructive, they may talk themselves out of going back to rehab. This could be a dire decision. It is important to make sure they understand the possible consequences.

Twilight Recovery Center’s Promise

At Twilight Recovery Center, we understand the roots of denial. We also understand that people need support and attention to break through that denial and find their way to sobriety. Our program aims to help these people heal and become even better than they were before. In treatment, we access their trauma in a controlled environment, breaking through their denial and allowing them to self-actualize.

Twilight Recovery Center also acknowledges the high level of relapse among people with substance use disorders. We welcome these people back to continue the program from different angles and with new care plans. With our help and support, our residents will become better, more whole individuals.

When someone is unwilling to seek treatment, it is often due to denial. There is a denial of hurt, responsibility, and substance abuse. This can be difficult for family and friends that want the individual to seek help. Denial has deep roots in a person’s psyche and must be explored individually and in treatment. Twilight Recovery Center is prepared to discuss these emotions with those experiencing them. We can show them just how clear their problems are to everyone around them and why their negative behavior needs to change. For many, this can be the first hurdle on the road to recovery. For more information, contact Twilight Recovery Center at (888) 414-8183.