Everyone wants what’s best for their loved ones. But it can be challenging to help someone who doesn’t think they need it. If you have a loved one with undiagnosed sex addiction, you may be wondering how to talk to an addict in denial.
Knowing what denial looks like and how to talk to an addict in denial is crucial for helping someone with addiction get the help they need. Helping your loved one overcome their denial can help them stop their addiction and further enable their recovery.
What Does Denial Look Like in Addiction?
Addiction will look different in every individual, and so will denial. Denial is a symptom of addiction and can manifest in some common ways.
Some people with addiction may think they can solve all their problems themselves. This isolating belief makes it easier for them to hide what they do, preventing them from confronting how their behavior may affect others or their lives.
Many people with addiction will minimize substance use or sex’s role in their lives. Their addiction may have started small. But addiction is a progressive disease, which means that over time, it will worsen. Often, as the addiction becomes worse, their denial also becomes more severe.
One common way denial can manifest is through blame. Many addicts blame others for their behavior. They say things like, “I wouldn’t need alcohol if my job weren’t so stressful” or “If my parents had been more loving, I wouldn’t need to seek affection from other people.”
Some people with addiction can be high functioning. This functioning means they take care of their responsibilities with their job and family, so they don’t feel the same sort of consequences that someone else might. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t mean their addiction isn’t a problem. And using their ability to take care of responsibilities is just a form of denial.
And most commonly, people with addiction rationalize their behavior as something they deserve. If they’ve had a difficult day or completed something challenging, they may justify their behavior as a well-deserved reward or a way to blow off steam. This sort of denial normalizes addictive behavior as a prize.
Breaking through denial is the first stage of recovery. Learning how to talk to an addict in denial can help them access the help they need for recovery.
How to Talk to an Addict in Denial
Knowing how to speak to someone in denial is key to helping that person get the help they need to recover. There are ways to speak to people with addiction to make the conversation productive.
When talking to an addict in denial:
- Be Specific. When you address someone with addiction, be specific about how their behavior affects their life or the lives of others. Mention specific canceled plans, times they’ve borrowed money, or which relationships they’ve lost.
- Use “I” Statements. Don’t use accusatory language. Use statements that show how you feel. For example, saying “I was worried” or “I feel like…” can be a good way to show them how you feel without alienating them.
- Don’t Blame or Shame. Addiction isn’t a flaw or a sign of weak will. It’s a mental illness. Using shame or blame isn’t going to help someone with addiction, and it may drive them away from seeking help.
- Don’t Get Discouraged. It’s not uncommon for someone with addiction to continue to deny they have a problem. Don’t take it personally. Denial is a symptom of addiction. Remain supportive and let them know you’re there to help.
- Explain. Explain how their behavior affects you and others around them, including themselves. Addiction has a huge impact on a person’s life. Discuss with your loved one how their addiction has affected their career, family life, friendships, and even their finances.
- Talk When They’re Sober. It can be difficult to talk with someone with addiction when they aren’t sober. Instead, approach them when they aren’t under the influence. They may still deny that they have a problem, but it hopefully will be easier to talk with them.
- Help Them Feel Loved. Discussing addiction with someone in denial can feel like a confrontation. Let them know that you have their back no matter what and that you love and care for them.
- Offer Help. Show your loved one with addiction that they don’t have to undergo their healing journey alone. Make it clear that you’re there to support them, and ask them what they need.
- Encourage Professional Help. Letting your loved one know that you think it’s time for them to seek help is a great way to show them how serious you think their addiction is. They won’t always immediately seek help. But if they know you support and encourage this choice, it will be easier for them to get help in the future.
- Discourage Denial. Your loved one may not want to admit they have an addiction because doing so can be frightening. But by giving them a place to talk through those fears, you can help them work through their denial.
What Not to Say to an Addict in Denial
Knowing how to address someone with addiction who is in denial can increase the chances of them seeking help. But there are some things you shouldn’t say to someone with addiction. If you want to have a productive conversation, make sure to avoid these three things.
1. Don’t Blame Them
Using blame only serves to make someone with addiction more defensive and less receptive to what you’re trying to tell them. Casting blame can further the cycle of denial. And it can make it more difficult for them to seek the help they need.
2. Don’t Talk While They’re Impaired
A substance use disorder often accompanies sex addiction. If your loved one is under the influence, they aren’t likely to take what you’re telling them to heart. Instead, they may dismiss it or double down on their denial. It’s best to talk to them when they’re sober and most open to hearing your message.
3. Don’t Accuse Them
Many people with addiction don’t think it’s that serious. Some may not see their behavior as a problem. Some people may decide it’s not an issue because they’re high functioning and haven’t experienced any consequences. By accusing someone with addiction of not taking it seriously, you’re only alienating them. You’re sending a message that you don’t support them when the opposite is true.
Tips for Overcoming Denial
Just having a conversation with someone in denial isn’t always enough. There are other resources to help people in denial to get the help they need.
Use these tools to help overcome denial:
- Therapy. An addiction counselor or therapist can help people overcome denial and see how their addiction is negatively impacting their lives. Mental health professionals also can help friends and family of addicts to heal from the effects of the addiction.
- Journaling. Writing is a great way to record daily life, including addictive behaviors. Encouraging someone with sex addiction to write down each time they engage in compulsive sexual behaviors can be a good way to see how much their addiction impacts their lives.
- Consequences. It can be a huge wake-up call to confront someone with addiction with the results of their behavior. Whether it’s an empty bank account or the loss of a relationship, seeing the effects of an addiction can help the person get out of denial.
- Education. In many cases, people may not realize they have an addiction. By reading materials about specific addictions, they may see behaviors they recognize in themselves and be better prepared to address their addiction.
There is Help for Addicts in Denial
Through all conversations with someone in denial, remain supportive but don’t enable their behavior. It’s difficult to have a loved one with addiction, but helping them understand how their behavior affects themself and others can greatly maximize their chances of recovery.