Or, what I learned writing about addiction…
More than one generation has grown up since my first book, You And Your Alcoholic Parent, was published 35 years ago by Association Press. Since publishing is an uneven business You And Your Alcoholic Parent changed publishers 3 times, and once even its title. Finally, I asked for my rights back.
I have since up dated the book to include the growing problem of cross-addiction, and consequently changed the title to For Teenagers Living With A Parent Who Abuses Alcohol/Drugs. Presently published by The Authors Guild BackPrint.com, the book can be seen here.
The point of this preamble is, as a writer researching addiction, talking to those involved with the disease, I have noticed that the biggest impediment to a patient’s recovery is denial.
According to the Webster’s Dictionary the word, denial, is defined in part as, “a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.”
The first time I came across denial was when I had my own syndicated newspaper column, “The Young World,” concerning teenagers in suburbia.
A young, enthusiastic writer in the mid-1960’s I asked some teenagers smoking marijuana to tell me why they were so into “pot.” Routinely, almost like a mantra, the teenagers would answer, “Pot is better than the alcohol my parents drink.” These teenagers thought that by substituting pot for the alcohol they were solving a problem. Not one teenager even whispered the word, addiction.
The first step in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps, which is as well used by other treatment groups dealing with a variety of addictions such as hard drugs and gambling, is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Those who do not admit that they have an addiction can’t begin to heal. Actually this is true for all diseases. Compare it to a cancer patient. Is any cancer patient going to go through Chemo without accepting that he or she has cancer?
How do we break through that shell? Denial has many aspects. Families often contribute to denial by refusing to admit that the substance abuse is causing serious health, work, school and family problems. Thus the words “enabling” and “codependency” have been relevantly added to the denial spectrum.
When I investigated addiction for my books I talked among others to internists. I learned that conscientious physicians check during a routine annual exam for addiction. Unfortunately this examination does not include how deep the denial is even though denial is the primary psychological symptom of addiction.
Studying case histories for my books I heard so many guises of denial that I can easily categorize them in my mind.
1. Enjoy life. Why think about problems?
2. I don’t have a problem. You’re the one with the problem.
3. Just a few drinks to make life tolerable.
4. Everyone has an occasional accident.
5. If I leave the family no one will nag me.
6. We are moving. If I change locations I’ll be O.K.
7. Intervention – sure I’ll listen but will I submit to treatment?
8. Drugs and alcohol are the fastest way to cope with anxiety and depression.
We all have more or less denial mechanisms mostly formed in our youth. How did the family cope with problems?
One patient I interviewed told me that whenever there was an argument in his family his father would sing hoping to change the topic. Another patient told me that every time a problem came up in her family her brother would clown hoping to take everyone’s mind off the unpleasantness.
As we grow older, whether married or single, we add to our old family habits our own patterns, very much like a house with a strong foundation to which we build on floor after floor. It is for the treatment group, rehabilitation center, therapist or any self-help group to take that house apart starting with the foundation until the denial comes tumbling down and treatment can begin.