Symptoms and Behaviors of Denial in Addiction

Addiction is often characterized by denial. This is when people tend to minimize or deny the severity of their addiction, even when confronted with hard evidence to the contrary.

Individuals can be unable to accept help, which can greatly hinder their recovery. For those struggling with addiction, SMART Recovery offers strategies and tools to assist them in overcoming it. 

This article will discuss addiction denial, as well as the symptoms and behaviors to look for. We’ll also offer advice on how SMART Recovery can be utilized to get sober and stay sober.

Addiction and the manifestation of denial

To avoid the painful reality of addiction, oftentimes someone struggling with substance use disorders will use denial as a psychological defense mechanism. Rationalization, minimization, and projection are common ways that denial can be experienced.


Rationalization refers to the justification of behaviors associated with addiction with reasons that seem rational. In reality, however, the addict is just creating excuses.

As an example, an individual suffering from alcohol abuse might claim that after a long day at work, they simply like to have a few drinks to unwind.


Minimization refers to a person’s attempt to play down the seriousness of their addictive behavior and its consequences. For instance, they may state that they are only weekend drinkers. 

While this may or may not be true, if their substance use is affecting their lives negatively and they are unable to stop, it is still substance abuse. 


Projection is when someone blames others for their substance use. This could include claiming that a spouse’s or loved one’s behavior is what’s actually causing them to abuse drugs or alcohol.

By doing this, they are effectively absolving themselves from whatever consequences result from their actions. They are stating in a sense that they were forced to do it, and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable.

The consequences of denial 

Refusing to accept addiction can prevent people from recognizing the adverse effects of substance abuse on their life, relationships, and well-being. Such denial can lead them to believe that they have power over their addiction, despite any evidence to the contrary.

The greatest consequence of denial is that it can make individuals less willing to seek assistance. If they feel they are in control of their addiction, or flat out refuse to accept that it exists at all, then to them there is no need for help.

Woman holding her hands in front of her face in denial about her addiction

How denial can prevent recovery

For someone struggling with addiction, denial can be the single biggest roadblock to their recovery. Even if they reluctantly agree to seek help, they’re far less likely to accept the treatment in a constructive way. The less someone is willing to acknowledge they have a problem, then the less likely they’ll be motivated to change their behavior. 

They might also refuse support from friends and family, or heed the advice of medical professionals. Any attempt to intervene in their destructive behavior will be met with resistance. 

Denial also increases the likelihood of an addict suffering a relapse in recovery. If root causes, like trauma or emotional distress, aren’t properly addressed, then drug or alcohol dependence may continue to be used as a coping mechanism. 

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery offers a self-help program that differentiates itself from common 12-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

SMART, an acronym that stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training, is a program utilizing the principles of motivational interviewing (MI), as well as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

This program is designed for individual empowerment to take control over their recovery and addiction management strategies and tools.

How SMART Recovery is different

There are some key differences between traditional therapies like 12-step programs and SMART Recovery. 

First of all, belief in a higher power and accepting that one is powerless over their addiction are not requirements. SMART Recovery motivates those struggling with substance abuse to create their own sense of purpose and meaning. Additionally, It encourages them to take responsibility for their actions.

SMART Recovery also emphasizes the importance of using evidence-based techniques, like CBT and MI, to assist in changing behaviors and patterns of thought. 

Lastly, SMART Recovery provides an environment that is supportive and non-judgmental. People are encouraged to share their experiences with one another and learn from one another.

The 4-point program of SMART Recovery

The SMART Recovery program comprises a four-point approach that equips individuals with the necessary skills and tools to manage their addiction effectively. 

Building and maintaining motivation

The first point of the SMART Recovery program involves building and sustaining motivation.

This step aids individuals in recognizing their motivations for altering their addictive behaviors and devising a plan to attain their objectives. It encompasses several tools, including decision-making matrices and cost-benefit analysis.

Coping with urges

Coping with urges offers a range of tactics to handle cravings and urges that might trigger a relapse. This involves utilizing techniques like deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques, and assertiveness training.

Managing thoughts and feelings

This point concentrates on aiding individuals in identifying and overcoming detrimental thinking patterns and behaviors that contribute to addiction. This encompasses tools such as the ABCs of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and thought-stopping techniques.

Living a balanced life

The fourth point of the SMART Recovery program encourages individuals to cultivate a well-rounded and gratifying life that does not revolve around their addiction. This involves utilizing tools such as goal-setting and problem-solving techniques.

A pile of shredded paper with the text recovery on each piece

Using SMART Recovery to tackle denial

SMART Recovery offers a variety of strategies and tools to help people accept their drug or alcohol use and overcome denial. 

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Cost-Benefit Analysis is utilized in SMART Recovery to assist individuals in evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of their addictive behavior. It prompts individuals to contemplate the immediate and long-term benefits and drawbacks of their addiction. 

Through this exercise, individuals can attain a more comprehensive comprehension of how their alcohol or drug use affects their life and relationships.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

REBT supports individuals in recognizing and confronting irrational beliefs that contribute to their addiction. The ABCs of REBT require individuals to identify the Activating Event (A), their irrational Belief (B) about the event, and the Consequence (C) of that belief. 

By challenging irrational beliefs, individuals can transform their thinking patterns and behaviors.


Brainstorming empowers individuals to create novel ideas and approaches for managing their addiction. It inspires individuals to think innovatively and explore a variety of possibilities for managing their addiction.


Role-playing enables individuals to acquire new skills and behaviors in a secure and supportive environment. It permits individuals to test out fresh coping strategies and receive constructive feedback from others.

Setting Goals

The purpose of setting goals is to enable individuals to establish and attain practical objectives for their recovery. It assists individuals in concentrating on the favorable changes they wish to make in their lives and taking the necessary steps to accomplish them.

Summing it up

It is common for addicts to deny they have a problem. This makes it difficult to even begin the recovery process. 

Although denial is a common symptom of addiction, it doesn’t have to be a barrier for recovery. SMART Recovery provides a variety of strategies and tools to help people overcome denial. 

These tools can be used to help them take control of their recovery. They can also access the support and encouragement provided by the program.

We want to help

At Whispering Oaks Lodge, we offer a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, learn new strategies and gain insight, as well as encouragement and support from others.

We offer a space for addicts to manage their addiction with the support and encouragement they need. They can also feel in control of their lives and have a satisfying and fulfilling life after recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of addiction, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our staff is here to help on the road to recovery.

checkbox checkbox Residential Treatment Intensive Outpatient IOP Day Treatment Respite