No one wants to admit they have a problem, especially when it could be one with alcohol. Heavy drinking, problem drinking call it what you will, when someone is accused of drinking too much it carries a stigma nobody wants to be attached to. So when accused of being an alcoholic or a problem drinker the first thing the accused does is deny they have a problem. Withdrawing, silence, defiance, rationalizing is big, changing the subject and even joking about it are some common reactions associated with denial.
The smart problem drinker will take an honest inventory of themselves and if they see they really do have a problem take corrective measures to mitigate the problem or stop drinking altogether. Unfortunately human nature being what it is and the pull of alcohol being so strong being smart isn’t always enough. When an obvious problem drinker starts denying a problem exists often it’s the first sign there really is a problem. Denial is generally the opening salvo in a battle against an absolutely cunning enemy.
When alcohol gets its grip on an individual it slowly but progressively takes over their life and sanity. The problem drinker will begin to make every excuse in the book to find a chance to get that glow on and in the process start experiencing noticeable setbacks with their lives that set off alarm bells to those closest to them. Employers notice their not themselves or are missing work, loved ones notice personality changes that concern them. Even the alcoholic or problem drinker realizes that they are drinking too much and becoming dependent on the feeling they get after a few drinks. It’s like the perfect storm and it leads to accusations of a problem with alcohol and the denial that there is any problem at all.
Unfortunately along with the denial comes dishonesty. Alcoholics become prolific liars. “I only had one beer”, “I only drink when you drink” or “I promise this is my last drink”. This is only the beginning in a pattern of lying that gets as bad as the drinking problem itself. After the first round of denial the accusations and arguments about drinking force most problem drinkers to hide their drinking from those who are concerned. Depending on circumstances some will just continue drinking and not care who knows.
At this stage any discussion of a drinking problem will likely be ignored or dismissed by the drinker and they will retreat from the heat so to speak and continue their drinking by themselves. More time spent in the workshop, in their home office, anywhere they can find to drink in peace. Many will start to spend more time away from home and “drink with the boys” or hit the bars after work. Spending time with like minded drinkers is easy but it is also the beginning of the end of most problem drinkers. They find it easier to drink their “quota” away from home and upon arriving home pretend to have their first drink of the day. This of course is ridiculous since the concerned loved ones would have to be blind, ignorant or both not to know he’s intoxicated.
The lying starts to propagate as wives, children or family in general start asking the obvious questions “where have you been, I know you’ve been drinking – no I haven’t or I only had 2 drinks with the guys. The vicious cycle continues until it seems like something has to give. Unbelievably the worse the drinking becomes the more prolific and sophisticated the denial gets.
The problem drinker becomes very cunning in their quest to drink. Even though they are now regularly experiencing troubles in their life they seem to gravitate to those people around them who enable them. This enabling system is wonderful for the problem drinker because they can continue to drink and they don’t have to lie about it with this group. They are the abusive drinker’s safety net, always ready to bail them out of trouble or ignore the truth. Enablers are really in denial as well.
The clear and present danger of denial is that because it gets progressively worse as the drinking gets more prolific the problem drinker or alcoholic put themselves at a much greater risk over time. The longer they continue to drink with abandon the more likely they are to develop serious health issues or hurt themselves or someone else.
When someone is in denial its not like they make a conscious choice to deny they have a drinking problem. Depending on the severity and length of time they partake in heavy drinking the more prone they are to actually believing they don’t really have a problem. Again this is insane but such is the disease of alcoholism.
The seriousness of prolonged denial is played out daily in courtrooms the world over where alcoholics or problem drinkers face stiff penalties for drinking and driving. Because of their denial of impairment, abusers really think they are okay to drive and even after they have been arrested more than once they still get behind the wheel and drive!
Everyone has heard the stories of chronic alcoholics with multiple impaired driving convictions who continue to break the law and drive while drunk. Sure the alcohol dependence has a firm grip on these lost souls but you can bet they had many enablers on the way to their personal hell and that their denial was rampant.
The major breakthrough for a problem drinker is when they accept what people are telling them about their drinking with openness and a willingness to listen and seek treatment. Ironically the denial doesn’t always stop when an alcoholic or problem drinker starts their recovery. Many will still deny they ever had a drinking problem but that ‘maybe their drinking was getting somewhat out of hand’. I have witnessed many newcomers at A.A. meetings who will still not call themselves an alcoholic after attending for months.
Denial is a part of everyone’s life but when associated with an alcohol abuser it will take time and patience to recover their common sense and return to more normal and manageable behavior.
To set up an appointment with Michael Pearlman, M.D., Call 1 (866) 285-3400 toll-free or (617) 620-2230,