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  • People with alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction) face a significant amount of judgment or stigma. That’s why many of them won’t admit they have the disease, which is often called alcoholic denial.

    If your family member or friend struggles with alcoholic denial, you may feel hopeless. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to help your loved one recover.

    Warning Signs Of Alcoholic Denial

    A person with alcoholic denial may:

    • lie about how much alcohol they drink
    • lie about how often they drink alcohol 
    • joke about their alcohol use to make it seem less serious
    • hide alcohol in odd places
    • claim they can’t have alcohol use disorder because they drink less than other people
    • claim they can’t have alcohol use disorder because they only drink expensive alcohol

    In addition, many high-functioning alcoholics (also called functional alcoholics) will argue that they can’t have alcohol use disorder because they manage to go to work, take care of their kids, or complete other daily tasks.

    How To Deal With An Alcoholic In Denial

    It’s difficult to help someone who won’t acknowledge their alcohol problem. However, it’s not impossible. To support your loved one in the recovery process, you can: 

    Learn The Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

    Your loved one will do everything they can to convince you they don’t have alcohol use disorder. Thus, to identify when your loved one’s struggling, you must study the disease’s symptoms.

    The most common symptoms are tolerance and alcohol dependence. Tolerance means that over time, your loved one will need increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to become intoxicated. 

    Physical dependence means your loved one can’t function properly without alcohol. When they don’t drink, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, and shakiness. 

    Along with experiencing tolerance and physical dependence, a person with alcohol use disorder may:

    • lose interest in activities they once enjoyed
    • spend less time with friends and family
    • forget what happened while they were drinking
    • get angry when they can’t drink
    • frequently borrow or steal money 

    Don’t Enable Your Loved One

    When your loved one’s alcohol use disorder disrupts their life, you may feel an urge to rescue them. For example, you might:

    • tell their boss they’re too sick to come to work (when they’re actually just hungover)
    • frequently give them money
    • pay their bills for them

    Although these actions come from a place of love, they do more harm than good. That’s because they shield your loved one from the negative consequences of their drinking habits. 

    When a person doesn’t face consequences, they’re much more likely to continue drinking and denying they have a problem. 

    Take Care Of Yourself

    Dealing with a loved one who’s in denial may leave you feeling stressed. When you don’t take good care of yourself, you can’t take good care of your loved one. 

    Boost your well-being by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthily, and exercising. You can also engage in relaxing activities like reading, yoga, and meditation. 

    In addition, you’ll need an emotional support system. Luckily, there are multiple support groups designed for people whose loved ones have alcohol use disorder, including:

    Have An Honest Conversation With Your Loved One

    At some point, you and your loved one will need to discuss your concerns about their drinking habits. Initiate the conversation in a private, comfortable place when your loved one is calm and sober. 

    Don’t judge or attack your loved one. Instead, gently share your concerns. 

    If possible, provide specific examples of damage caused by their drinking problem (such as a drunk driving accident). These examples make it more difficult for your loved one to deny they have a problem. 

    Listen to your loved one’s responses. You may learn why they started abusing alcohol in the first place. 

    For example, many people drink to cope with mental health concerns like stress, grief, or depression. The more you learn about your loved one’s drinking problem, the more you’ll be able to help them.

    If your loved one refuses to discuss their disorder, contact a therapist, addiction interventionist, or other behavioral health care provider. They can help you design a more personalized plan for talking to your loved one. 

    Help Your Loved One Find Treatment

    When your loved one finally admits they have an alcohol problem, they may need help looking for an addiction treatment center. 

    If your loved one shows signs of depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, look for a dual diagnosis treatment program. These programs provide alcohol rehab alongside treatment for other mental health issues.

    If your loved one seems hesitant to start treatment, suggest that they start with a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. There, they can connect with other people recovering from substance use disorders and learn valuable coping skills. 

    To learn more about treatment options for alcohol use disorder, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. We offer a variety of substance abuse treatment services, including medical detox, mental health therapy, aftercare planning, and more.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcohol withdrawal

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 21, 2022
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