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The Three Stages of Addiction Denial and How to Overcome Them

We can’t discuss addiction without first discussing denial – they virtually go hand-in-hand. And when wanting to help someone with a substance abuse problem or if you are willing to look at yourself to see how you can maintain ongoing sobriety, it’s important to understand the three stages of addiction denial and how to overcome them.

Types of Addiction Denial

Denial, when it comes to addiction, is defined by experts in two different ways. And it’s important to identify which one is at work when treating people with addiction. We’ll call the two types of denial Type A and Type B.

Type A addiction denial is outright dishonesty or lying. The addict/alcoholic knows they have a problem but, when confronted about it, they flat-out deny having a problem.

Type B denial is more insidious and can be described as being honestly dishonest. The addict/alcoholic is pretty much blind to their problem, having convinced themselves through self-deception, rationalizing, justifying, and excuse-making, that they don’t have a problem, yet to everyone around them it is obvious.

Three Stages of Addiction Denial and How to Overcome Each

Stage One Addiction Denial

Stage one of addiction denial can be either type A or type B denial as described above. The alcoholic or addict may accept being addicted to a drug or drugs but, they truly don’t believe that they have the disease of addiction. They might flat-out deny having a problem despite overwhelming evidence or they might admit that they are a drug abuser but that they’re not physically dependent or addicted.

The bottom line: the addict doesn’t accept having the disease of addiction, and therefore is unwilling to accept that complete abstinence from all drugs is required.

How to Overcome Stage One Addiction Denial

An internal acceptance of their chemical dependency is required to overcome the first stage of addiction denial. It is an ongoing process and requires a conversion in the addict’s belief system.

A seed must be planted and given time to take root and grow. This was my personal experience with overcoming denial about my addiction: my father somewhat off-handedly mentioned the idea of treatment to me. At first, I was angry with him and refused to speak to him. About 5 months later, I was seeking treatment for my problem.

Step One of the AA/NA recovery program states, “We admitted…” The more someone admits to having a problem, the more they come to believe it on a deeper level of self-awareness.

Stage Two Addiction Denial

This stage of addiction denial describes the experience of the alcoholic or addict who denies the need for ongoing sobriety after they complete treatment. People often struggle with the idea of being powerless over a substance and, overall, their addiction.


How to Overcome Stage Two Addiction Denial

In order to overcome the second stage of denial, the addict or alcoholic needs to understand that they, alone, cannot maintain sobriety. In a nutshell, they must believe in and understand the idea that something greater than themselves can help them in maintaining their sobriety. In 12 Step recovery, this notion is referred to as a Higher Power of one’s own understanding.

People who relapse even after having had long-term sobriety many times say that they “took their will back,” meaning that they started to think that they, alone, could control their ability to stay sober.

This is the second step of the AA/NA program: the “Coming to believe in a power greater than self.”

Stage Three Addiction Denial

The third stage of addiction denial is the refusal to believe that you have to be willing to go to any length for your recovery program. Basically, the addict/alcoholic’s commitment to sobriety might be strong but, their commitment to doing whatever it takes to maintain their sobriety is weak.

An indication of this type of denial is having other priorities that trump their sobriety. Oftentimes, people rush their recovery because of their family, their job, the business they own. These will be the first things they lose if they don’t dedicate themselves to their recovery first and foremost.

How to Overcome Stage Three Addiction Denial

Constant recommitment to active participation in your recovery program is required in order to overcome the third stage of addiction denial.

Get involved with the fellowship by attending 12-Step meetings, becoming a sponsor, being a secretary or chairperson of your home group, and having a commitment at a meeting (such as making the coffee or being a greeter). This is what it means by “staying in the middle.”

It is almost impossible to completely overcome the third stage of denial. This is why the phrase, “Progress not perfection” is often used in the rooms of AA and NA.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.


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