Distortion, Denial and the Truth About Addiction’s Two Most Powerful Body Guards

By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Individuals with active addiction often become very defensive when confronted—even carefully—about their drinking or drug problem. In fact, many react with extreme emotional outbursts, as though someone has threatened their best friend or a beloved family member. The truth is, to an active addict, anyone attempting to confront the reality of their addiction is in fact bullying their closest friend.

An active addict’s drug of choice is not simply a substance. From their perspective, it is their security. The relationship they develop with drugs or alcohol becomes their most intimate and valued one. Therefore, people in their lives who were once cherished begin to feel abandoned and betrayed, as if they have been replaced by drugs or alcohol. Indeed, they have.

Unfortunately, if friends, family members or significant others voice these feelings, thoughts or experiences regarding this reality or attempt to rescue the individual from the throes of active addiction, they are typically met with varying degrees of denial and distortion. These defense mechanisms usually present with the active addict’s efforts to;

  • deny a problem with drugs or alcohol,
  • dismiss any expressed pain or suffering caused by the abuse of these substances,
  • accuse those confronting the addiction of wrongful behavior,
  • shift blame and accountability to the intervening individuals,
  • manipulate said individuals with victimization, excuses and verbal expressions of martyrdom and self-pity.

These behaviors work to defend active addiction by denying its existence and distorting the reality of its destructive nature. Ultimately, the combined forces of denial and distortion—as presented in the bulletin points—create a chaotic maze of the active addict’s circular logic and the loved one’s dizzying cycles of repeated attempts to communicate concern. The latter continually gets stonewalled and eventually shut down. The well-orchestrated topsy-turvy outcome serves to distract and dissuade everyone from their attempts to confront the active addiction in the first place.

In short, the process of confronting active addiction can be crazy-making. Moreover, to attempt to address it repeatedly is the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It is both a setup for and a characteristic of codependency.

That is the very reason denial and distortion are indeed addiction’s most powerful body guards. They not only work to protect the addictive substances and addiction itself. They also formulate such an insane, dysfunctional experience that those who become concerned and wish to interfere or intervene are forced to either maladapt and become increasingly codependent—a condition which requires recovery as well—or back off and simply let go.

Though the latter is always easier said than done, it is the necessary step each concerned individual must take in an effort to protect their own sanity and overall wellness. Aside from an organized intervention in which at least one helping professional is present to facilitate and mediate, there is nothing more that can be done to save an active addict from themselves. To prevent becoming an enabling part of the problem or an enmeshed piece of the dysfunction, loved ones must quickly employ their own empowering entourage; detachment and disengagement.

First published on www.soberrecovery.com.