Denial feeds addiction, and everyone in the family is impacted. To truly we recover, everyone in the family has to take an honest look at how addiction impacts them. Meanwhile, denial will do everything in its power to prove things are fine. Or, “It’s not that bad.” Or worse yet, “It was just this one time.” You can cut through denial and face the truth with these three steps.

Denial Affects The Whole Family

Whether you are the person struggling with addiction or you love someone who is, denial will seep into every aspect of your life. Addiction is a family disease that affects generations, and everyone in the family needs recovery. Honesty in recovery needs to begin when you are first confronted with the evidence of addiction. These may be the facts you have seen for yourself or ones others have pointed out for you.

Denial is a part of the addictive process, for no one wants to see the facts and the consequences go along with addiction. Trying to cover up the addiction is the first warning sign that you are in denial. But research tells us that ‘Secrets keep us sick.’ Covering up what is really going on in your life, only prolongs your misery and makes your recovery harder.

Step One – Be Honest With Yourself

Your first step is to be honest with yourself. If you’re still lying to yourself about the extent of addiction, you won’t be able to be honest with anyone else. You need to stop minimizing the addiction’s impact and begin keeping track of how often this addiction harms you. Keep a log of any relevant facts including:

  • How often substance or behavior is used (porn, exercise, and even codependency are addictive as well)
  • How much substance or alcohol is used. Or how many hours are spent in addictive behaviors

Step Two – Be Honest About The Consequences

The next step is to examine the consequences your use has caused. You can begin writing down these consequences such as missing work, getting a drunk-driving charge, spending money on the substance, and all other consequences you’ve had. It is helpful to have your loved ones’ involved because they can give you the feedback you need to see how your use is not only impacting you, but how it is negatively impacting your family, friends, and your work.

  • Costs associated with addiction, including doctor’s appointments, ER trips, meds, counseling, lack of income, short-term loans
  • Frequency of arguments or altercations with friends and family
  • Amounts consumed or hours spent pursuing the addiction

Step Three – Listen

Be silent and hear what others are telling you about the impact on their lives. You have probably been in denial about your own consequences which you have minimized in order to keep using and to keep from feeling the shame and guilt you have with these consequences. Other’s can point out how you’ve missed family activities because of your use, driving drunk with the kids in the car, losing friendships because your friends can’t tolerate being around your drunken behavior, or how you’ve missed work due to hangovers or are in jeopardy in losing your job. Again, while this is very difficult, you need to just listen, not defend yourself, but just listen

If you have decided to seek treatment you need to be honest with the provider of the treatment. This could be a counselor you see for individual substance use disorder treatment, an intensive outpatient clinic, or a residential or inpatient treatment center. Believe me, for those of us in the field of addictions, we have heard every possible story of using along with the consequences and we also are able to tell if you are minimizing your use and consequences, so it does no good to try to con us. In reality, the only person you can con is yourself.

And conning yourself will just enable you to stay in the addictive process. You have to be honest to go through the pain of losing your drug(s) of choice for they have become your best friend, your lover, your parent, your spouse, your fun, and your leisure activity, so grieving this loss is a very important part of the process. You will also go through the grieving of how your using has hurt your loved ones. Until you do this grieving, you will struggle with staying clean.

Denial Comes Back

Once you get clean and sober you still need to be honest regarding your aftercare program and going to 12-step or other recovery meetings and/or using a sponsor. If you find yourself beginning to deny what is going on in your life, such as having ongoing urges to use or hating your recovery, you have begun the slippery slope to relapse. And while this relapse may be back into using substances, you may find you have switched addictions and now are struggling with a gambling or sexual addiction or other addictive behaviors.

So being honest is a life-time process. It is a way to live a life of integrity and growing and healing. The first step is getting honest with yourself and once you do this, you may find it is easier to now get honest with others. A great resource to practice honesty and good relationships is the newly published, 100 Tips for Growing Up.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.


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