Alcoholic Denial | How To Help An Alcoholic In Denial

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Denial is closely linked to addiction, especially in those with an alcohol use disorder. The person can’t or won’t see that their drinking is out of hand and they need substance abuse treatment. Despite the hardships of this condition, there are ways to help people with alcoholic denial and alcohol abuse issues.

Alcoholic Denial

Being dishonest or lying about alcohol consumption is pretty common with alcoholism. Lying can manifest into denial behaviors.

Denial in alcoholism can take on different characteristics, such as:

  • blame — placing responsibility for drinking on another person or circumstance. Taking no ownership of the drinking problem.
  • hiding — avoiding telling others that they are drinking or even denying when directly asked.
  • becoming defensive — instead of simply answering a question about their drinking, the person starts to defend their decision to drink.
  • dismissing — refusing to see their drinking as a problem or even being willing to talk about it.
  • lying about quitting — this type of denial occurs when the person falsely states that they will quit or that their drinking is an issue.
  • comparing — when approached about drinking habits, an alcoholic may shrug the statements off by naming a person who drinks more than them, or who acts extreme while drinking.
  • rationalizing — finding a way to minimize their own drinking, or word it in a way that is accepted.

How Does Alcoholic Denial Happen?

When a person starts abusing alcohol, they may feel they have a good reason. Stress, obligations, trauma, abuse, or any other number of negative circumstances can seem like an acceptable reason to pick up a bottle or have a drink.

Whether it happens over time or immediately, the person realizes that their drinking has become a bit out of control. However, they may not want to or be willing to cut back at that point.

Eventually, the need or compulsion to drink is beyond their control. Not wanting to admit their alcoholism to anyone does not mean they don’t see the problem.

Additionally, long-term effects of alcohol result in brain damage and compromise different functions of the brain, including insight and other frontal lobe processes.

Types Of Alcoholic Denial

People may deny their alcoholism for different reasons—it’s not always about hiding it. Here are the different types of alcoholic denial and why people with alcohol addiction may deny their drinking problem.

Denial As A Defense

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and over time it will get worse. As the person’s drinking continues to worsen over time, the consequences related to alcoholism increase.

Binge or heavy drinking can wreak havoc on a person’s love life, work responsibilities, and in some cases, result in legal problems.

Someone in the throes of an alcohol addiction may refuse to acknowledge the connection between their problems and drinking. Denial can become a sort of defense mechanism for them, allowing them to continue on this destructive path.


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Another form of defense can happen when a person struggling with addiction creates a group of people that allows them to continue to believe that their drinking is not a problem, nor the cause of their hard times.

Sometimes, these groups of friends can reinforce the alcoholic’s denial, and may actually provide their own chorus of denial to support the person with the alcohol addiction.

Secondary Denial

Secondary denial is a form of denial that doesn’t come from the alcoholic, but from the people they surround themselves with. Whether it is a ‘drinking buddy’ or a loved one, these people echo the sentiment of the person struggling with addiction.

This type of denial is a form of enabling. Oftentimes, enablers are family members who are attempting to protect the person with the alcohol problem.

Fortunately, there are support groups available for friends and family members of alcoholics, such as AlaTeen and Al-Anon, that help people understand how damaging enabling is, and how to make corrections to their own behaviors to help everyone involved.

Offering Protection To People With Alcoholic Denial

Loved ones sometimes protect the person who is experiencing an alcohol problem, making excuses for their poor behaviors and failure to manage responsibilities.

This type of enabling can come in many forms, such as:

  • paying bills the person can’t or won’t
  • working on jobs around the house they failed to complete
  • co-workers completing projects that they flaked out on
  • posting bail repeatedly for them to get out of jail
  • covering attorney or court fees for legal issues

“Saving The Day”

Coming to the rescue of a loved one who struggles with alcohol dependence may seem like the right thing to do, but it essentially allows them to never experience the negative consequences of their drinking.

Protecting, rescuing, and secondary denial are all ways that people close to alcoholics enable their addictive behaviors. When a loved one is engaged in alcohol abuse, watching them spiral out of control can cause inner conflict for friends and family members.

However, enabling is dangerous and in no way helpful. It allows a person with an alcohol use disorder to dismiss all warning signs that their alcohol abuse has become a problem.

Enabling also creates an environment that fosters co-dependency and negatively impacts appropriate support systems.

High-Functioning Alcoholic Denial

Denial often occurs in functional alcoholics. These individuals maintain appearances, hold down jobs, and fulfill most daily responsibilities. In fact, their loved ones may reinforce the denial by not acknowledging the warning signs themselves.

One of the most supportive things a friend, family member, or coworker can do for a high-functioning alcoholic is to acknowledge the alcohol problem and the need for an alcohol treatment program.

​No matter how functional an alcoholic is, the nature of the disease will eventually start to wear them down.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and the following are some of the noticeable symptoms of alcohol addiction:

  • sudden development of paranoia, shakiness, or insomnia
  • randomly missing social events that they enjoyed attending
  • missing work often or missing project due dates
  • lack of focus or attitude changes that are uncharacteristic

It is important to recognize that just because you have realized that your loved one may be in need of an alcohol addiction treatment program, that does not mean they will agree.

Approaching them may feel foreign or uncomfortable, which is why some choose to reach out to mental health or addiction specialists for guidance. There are unique professionals that conduct interventions, and those individuals can be extremely helpful in these processes.

Symptoms Of Alcoholism

While high-functioning alcoholics don’t always display the same warning signs of alcoholism, the majority of people struggling with alcohol abuse share many similar symptoms, including:

  • spending significant amounts of time using, finding, or recovering from alcohol use
  • using alcohol in dangerous circumstances
  • continuing to use alcohol despite health risks
  • needing larger amounts of alcohol to have the same effects
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms without alcohol
  • being unable to maintain relationships due to alcohol

A person that exhibits a number of these symptoms is likely to be struggling with an alcohol use disorder and would benefit from a treatment program.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

Alcohol addiction treatment centers offer a number of treatment options, and guide an individual through the recovery process. From the early stages of detoxification, or detox, to inpatient treatment, through to aftercare, addiction medicine continues to develop and support individuals in recovery.

Contact our helpline today. We are available to explore addiction treatment options that can help you or your loved one get the assistance needed to start recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020


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