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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Learn how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. series of Recovery books.

What is Meant by Denial?

ear Dr. Steve:

Never in my life have I met somebody as pigheaded as my brother. I have tried every way imaginable to reach him but I can’t get through to him. His life is crumbling around him. Everyone seems to see it but him. No matter how I try to get him to deal with the facts of his drug use, he has an uncanny ability to sidestep the truth. What’s with this guy? Does he just not care? Is he just plain stupid? Or, is his head buried too deeply in the sand to even notice?

There is nothing more frustrating than banging one’s head against the brick wall known as denial. Denial enables a person to continue using despite negative consequences and fail to recognize the overt and covert changes in his or herself. It's been said that chemical dependency is the only disease that tells you that you don't have a disease. The chemically dependent individual wants to hold onto the belief that drinking and drugging is the solution, not the problem, and that their alcohol and other drugs still work. Alcohol and other drugs use may temporarily provide relief from some problems, but it always results in generating new, more serious, problems. Denial allows addicts to hold onto such ideas as:

1.) Their drug use isn't contributing to, or responsible for, the problems in their lives
2.) Their drug use isn't that bad or cause them to compare themselves to someone else or a stereotypical image of an addict
3.) They can quit anytime they want
4.) They can handle it

This self-deception becomes deeply entrenched as the chemically dependent individual seeks to capture what alcohol and other drugs once provided, protecting their right to continue using. Because denial is an ever increasing narrowing of perceptions, you can understand how a narrowing of your brother’s perceptions would make it difficult for him to fully comprehend the scope and breadth of the problem his alcohol and other drug use may be causing.

Denial presents itself in many forms, many of which I imagine you have already encountered with your brother. Your brother may out and out deny that he has a problem with drugs and alcohol—he lives his life much like the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. He may minimize the severity of his drinking as well as minimize the impact his drinking has on himself and others. He may rationalize his drinking by alibying, justifying, and/or making excuses. For example, he drinks as a way of relaxing or it’s necessary that he drink to fit in to his peer group or fit in at his workplace. He may use blame as a way of justifying his drinking—blame an unreasonable boss, blame a wife who doesn’t understand him, blame his children who don’t respect him, blame ad nauseum. He may use lying, deceitfulness, and secretiveness as a way of hiding from you and others the extent of his drinking and drugging. There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with the intellectualization of a person in denial—the avoidance of the truth by dealing only with generalizations or theories. Is your brother an expert at deflecting the subject of his drinking any time you bring it up?

As the disease of chemical dependency progresses and his drinking begins to cause more and more problems in his life, what you’re experiencing first hand is how your brother’s denial increases as well. Despite the fact that his life is spinning out of control, despite the problems that your brother’s drinking may be causing him, he continues to be in denial about how the current circumstances of his life have any connection to his drinking and drugging.

At the same time, his acts of denial, whether it be lying, hiding, keeping secrets, or just refusing to talk about his drinking with you is evidence of how troubled he is deep down inside about his drinking. Your brother is covering up because at some level of his being he is aware that there is something different or wrong about him and his drinking. Somewhere inside he realizes that his drinking means more to him than he is willing to admit.

There’s a saying that you’re only as sick as your secrets. For your brother, only the rigorous honesty of Recovery can relieve him of the burden he has created by his denial and secretiveness.

As for you, only the admission that you are powerless over an alcoholic can return sanity to your life. Until you acknowledge to yourself that you are powerless and that your life has become unmanageable, you will continue to feel frustrated as you attempt to dismantle the walls of denial, deceit, and blame that your brother has constructed. Your will is no match for the willfulness of an active alcoholic. Your sanity relies on you making such an admission of powerlessness.

Learn how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. series of Recovery books—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist

1.) Get a copy of Al-Anon’s handbook.
2.) Go to an Al-Anon meeting.
3.) Get yourself an Al-Anon sponsor.
4.) Read my columns about enabling and detaching with love.



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