It can be difficult to realise a loved one is in denial about being an alcoholic. Maybe you've noticed they're drinking more lately, or perhaps they're making excuses to drink, “just one after a stressful day”, which turns into more, but when you mention it, they deny it. Your loved one might tell you that you're “being too sensitive” or insist they can control their drinking.
If you are concerned about a loved one who is in denial about their alcohol addiction, follow these steps to give yourself the best possible chance to help your loved one seek addiction treatment, as well as how to offer support throughout their treatment process.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD is a chronic disease that causes compulsive alcohol use. AUD impacts not only their own life and well-being but also that of family members, co-workers, friends and relationships.
- According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol use disorders and substance abuse are the third leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the world.
- It is estimated that 3.3 million deaths each year are caused by alcohol consumption, and 5.9% of all global deaths are attributable to alcohol.
- In Australia, the Institute of Health and Welfare states that alcohol is a leading cause of illness and death in Australia. And on top of that, alcohol consumption is responsible for more than 5% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia.
What are the signs of an alcoholic in denial?
There are two basic types of alcoholics – high-functioning alcoholics and low-functioning alcoholics.
High functioning alcoholism is where a person can hide their alcohol addiction, making them harder to spot. They may appear to be well-adjusted and have a successful or high-functioning lifestyle, but they are, in fact, struggling with a hidden addiction.
Low-functioning alcoholics cannot hide their addiction as well as high-functioning alcoholics. They may struggle with work, maintaining relationships and basic responsibilities. Low functional alcoholics often need help with everyday tasks and may require a higher level of care.
How to recognise a high-functioning alcoholic
It can sometimes be difficult to establish whether a person is a high-functioning alcoholic due to how they manage to conceal aspects of their addiction. Several key behaviours may indicate a problem, though. High-functioning alcoholics may:
- Find excuses to drink, such as saying that they're stressed or that alcohol helps them relax
- Regularly drink more than they intend to
- Have to drink in order to feel relief
- Have a high tolerance for alcohol
- Display secretive drinking habits
- Exhibit other forms of substance abuse
- Consume alcohol as a coping mechanism for problems at work or school
Concurrent mental health and alcohol abuse
There is a close link between mental health issues and alcoholism. Many people with alcohol addiction also suffer from a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Alcoholism can be a way of self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of a mental health disorder.
What causes someone with alcohol addiction to be in denial?
Alcoholics deny their habit for several reasons. Maybe they fear what will happen if they admit they have a problem. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed or believe they can control their drinking. Or, they might believe that alcohol is not really a problem for them or that it's not as bad as other people make it out to be.
Whatever the reason, alcoholics in denial are unwilling to face the truth about their addiction. This can be very frustrating for family members and friends who are trying to help them get treatment.
How you can help an alcoholic in denial
1. Build trust
Building trust is essential when helping an alcoholic loved one. It can be difficult for them to open up about their addiction, and they need to feel comfortable and safe talking with you.
You should express your support in a non-judgemental way and provide resources while also being a listening ear when needed. This step takes time and patience; however, it is a crucial step to making sure the person doesn’t immediately discard your future efforts with the alcohol use disorder.
2. Remember not to take it personally
Don't take their behaviour personally, and don't give up on them. It's easy to feel betrayed, let down or back to square one when the person promises they will stop drinking but relapse shortly after. It can also be easy to take the excuses personally.
Alcohol negatively affects cognitive function, and when someone is addicted to alcohol, their brain begins to rely on it to function properly. This can make it difficult for an alcoholic to admit they have a problem, as they may feel like they are not in control of their own actions.
It's important to remember that an alcoholic is not responsible for their disease, and they need help to overcome it.
Offering resources and support while being a listening ear can be very beneficial in helping an alcoholic friend get the treatment they need.
3. Know when to take a step back
There may come a time when you feel like you need to step back from helping someone with their drinking problem. This may be because you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, or your loved one is not interested in getting help.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may be helpful to talk to another person, such as a friend or other family members, about how you're feeling and get some advice on how to best help. Remember, taking care of yourself during the process is also important.
4. Don't enable them
People with drinking problems typically don't want others to know the extent of their alcohol consumption because they fear it might invite others to get involved. Choosing to keep the alcoholic’s drinking a secret, making excuses for them, providing financial assistance to continue drinking or taking on responsibilities they can no longer manage due to their drinking consequences is often referred to as "enabling."
Enabling a person’s drinking allows them to continue to cause themselves and the people around them harm and feeds into the affected person's denial even further. Dealing with the issue openly and without judgement is the best way, but you will likely need support.
5. Get outside help
One of the best things you can do is encourage them to seek professional treatment. Many different types of treatment are available, and the best option for your friend or family member will depend on their individual needs. You can start by talking to your loved one about their addiction and providing information about different treatment types.
If your loved one is not interested in getting help, you may need a more aggressive approach. Contacting a rehab centre or interventionist such as those at the Hader Clinic is a highly effective way of getting them to enter treatment if they initially believe it’s not necessary for them. Call us on 1800 883 388 or book a consultation to discuss your loved one’s addiction. Our caring staff at the Hader Clinic are there for you.
How the Hader Clinic can help
The Hader Clinic uses certified interventionists to assist you in helping your loved ones get help. A successful intervention can mean the difference between making a real breakthrough and continued use.
Services we offer:
- Helping with preparation for the intervention starting from the initial process to acceptance of help.
- Providing treatment options, including residential treatment, tailored to the patient, based on their suitability.
- We use medically reviewed and evidence-based approaches throughout the entire process.
- We implement a mixture of compassionate and firm approaches in our style of treatment.
Help your loved one take back control of their life
It’s hard to watch someone you care about abuse alcohol. If you are unsure what steps to take to ensure success - know that we are here to help. Contact us to book a consultation or call us today on 1800 883 388 for more information on our holistic alcohol treatment programs.