And They All Fall Down | This Thing They Call Denial

And they all fall down | this thing they call denial – ah that word, “denial.” I was just trying to help. I knew there was a problem, but I knew I could make it stop if I just tried hard enough. And they call that “denial?” Denial is such an important concept, that I am re-posting one of my earlier articles, “Denial of Addiction – a Key Reason for the Progression of the Disease.”

One of the keys to the progression of a loved one’s drinking moving from bad to worse, abusive to alcoholic, is DENIAL. Denial is a very human defense mechanism we all use at one time or another to protect ourselves from facing something we just don’t want to face. It can be seen in the eyes of a guilty four-year old who denies breaking a vase for fear of being punished, or in the tears of a lover who doesn’t want to admit the relationship is over or in the dieter’s pretending the size of a piece of birthday cake doesn’t really matter.

For alcoholics, however, denial not only distorts reality and hurts other people, it can ultimately lead to death. For alcohol abusers, denial can lead to alcoholism and/or years of destructive behaviors. Denial is what causes the alcoholic and alcohol abuser to adopt an arsenal of offensive measures (anger, minimizing, rationalizing, blaming and deceiving) in order to protect their ability to drink — everything from flimsy excuses to devious lies, whether they “accidentally” hide a bottle in a gym bag or pretend it’s an urgent matter to go out late at night because a “friend needs help.”

And, for family members, denial is what causes them to adopt the unhealthy coping skills (striving to be all things to all people so that he/she won’t want to drink; striving to get good grades and stay out of trouble so that mom/dad doesn’t have one more thing to deal with) that allow them to excuse or rationalize or defend themselves against the drinking behaviors (“it’s not that bad,” “everyone drinks too much now and again,” “lots of people drink and drive – he just got caught,” “at least he’s not mean when he drinks…”). A family member in denial can aide (without even understanding they are) in the progression of a loved one’s drinking but more importantly wreck havoc in their own lives – not only emotionally but often physically (stress, lack of sleep, depression, ulcers), as well.

Together, the person drinking and those who love them collaborate to enforce and support the notion that what is going on is really not what it is going on because no one wants to label a loved one as having a drinking problem they cannot control — or worse yet, of being an alcoholic. And, so together, they continue to enforce the two most important rules in the alcoholic or alcohol abusing household:

  • Rule #1: Alcohol use is not the problem.
  • Rule #2: Do not talk to anyone (not family, not friends) about the drinking nor the behaviors related to the drinking, and, above all, attack, minimize or discredit any family member who does.

Unless and until alcoholics or alcohol abusers and family members break through their denial, the consequences of a loved one’s drinking will continue to spiral, and they will “all fall down.” After decades of experience of loving and living with family alcohol abuse and alcoholism and years of research, therapy and Alanon, trust me when I say, “It only gets worse. It cannot/will not get better until the denial is stopped.”

To learn more about denial and how to stop it (screaming and yelling DO NOT work), consider reading my book, If You Loved Me You’d Stop! What You Really Need To Know When Your Loved One Drinks Too Much. In less than 120 pages, you will find the latest brain research on the disease of alcoholism and addiction; facts not commonly known about excessive drinking (alcohol abuse); information on the related issues, such as underage drinking, dual diagnoses, co-addictions, drunk driving, codependency and more; and advice that can help you enjoy a better life whether your loved on stops drinking or not. Click here to buy the book.


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Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

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  5. Hello there:
    According to Freud’s definition of denial, it is an unconscious process, totally not available to the conscious mind. What impact could it have to tell someone you think is in denial that they are in denial? What sort of responses have you had? Have you ever had anyone say “Yep, you are right and thanks for telling me. I am getting sober right now because of you.”

    Denial (personal opinion) is a “one up, expert” position, and the person will always push back at you. To use it among family members is continuing this falsehood that the person doesn’t know they may have a problem. A very young person just starting their drinking/drugging career may not be aware of it but they are just getting started! Most people know they have a problem and it insults their intelligence to be told otherwise. They may act like they don’t have a problem or insight about it but more do. Exceptions might be the character from the movie “Leaving Las Vegas”, where the character chooses to die (commit suicide) by drinking. His choice, and a sad one.

    I am wondering what research you are basing your blog material on, as if you are going to do this, please read the science on it. Alcohol related deaths have gone UP and not DOWN since the drinking age was changed to 21. Alcohol overdoses have also skyrocketed because we don’t teach our kids how to drink normally or moderately so they are like pigs out of the gate. Sweden never used to have a problem but since they entered the EU and lots of great distilled alcohol is coming in at low prices, they are seeing alcohol overdoses. They teach their kids how to drink beer and wine moderately but they (for some reason) didn’t teach them about distilled alcohol. Now, they have a problem with it.

    Cultures that don’t tolerate intoxication have the lowest rates of addiction. That and imminent death affect the use of substances more than anything else. Imminent death might be our soldiers in Afghanistan or gangbangers on the West side of Chicago.

    Knowing both sides is very helpful to the public.

    Jacque elder

  6. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Jacque. To your point of underage drinking as a problem related to the drinking age, you may find this report of interest, http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/

    To answer your question on my research sources for my various blog posts — they are many, but here are some of the more frequently used/cited:
    World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/alcohol/en/index.html
    U.S. Surgeon General, http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, niaaa.nih.http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
    HBO, NIAAA, NIDA and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaboration, http://www.hbo.com/addiction/
    American Society of Addiction Medicine, http://www.asam.org/
    American Medical Association, http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/promoting-healthy-lifestyles/alcohol-other-drug-abuse.shtml
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, http://www.samhsa.gov/
    National Alliance of Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/

    Again, thank you for commenting.

  7. When faced with the serious problem of alcoholism and denial, one might consider these memorial quotes and what the Apollo 13 crew had to do to return to Earth safely:
    Jim Lovell ( Tom Hanks ):
    “Houston, we have a problem.”
    Gene Kranz ( Ed Harris ) in the Movie : “Apollo 13”
    “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

    • I’m so sorry to hear this, Joann. If you / he would like more information about this brain disease and the impacts of secondhand drinking on the family members, please feel free to contact me.