How to Deal With an Alcoholic in Denial

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

How to Deal With an Alcoholic in Denial

Table of Contents

One of the most challenging things you can encounter when trying to help someone with a drinking problem is denial. Alcoholics in denial deny that they have a drinking problem and often don’t recognize the consequences or how it affects those around them. Understanding denial and how it works is key to helping someone who is an alcoholic.

Denial and Alcoholism (AUD)

Alcoholism denial is common in those suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). It can make it difficult for an individual to recognize the need for help and treatment, making it all the more important for friends, family members, or other loved ones to be aware of the signs.

The most common signs of denial include:

  • Minimizing or denying their alcohol consumption
  • Making excuses for drinking or downplaying the severity of it
  • Blaming others for their drinking habits
  • Refusing to talk about their drinking problem
  • Not recognizing the signs of alcoholism in themselves

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a progressive condition that negatively affects the person’s health, relationships, and career. Those in denial of their AUD often lack insight into their drinking has impacted these areas. This denial can prevent them from seeking help and make it difficult for others to intervene.

If your loved one denies their AUD, being supportive and non-judgmental is important. Focus on addressing the problem from a place of understanding rather than criticism. Encourage them to get help and provide resources such as treatment centers or support groups that can assist them in their recovery.

Why Do People Deny That They Have a Drinking Problem?

Denial is a defense mechanism where someone refuses to accept the reality of their situation. It’s very common for people who have issues with alcohol or drug use to deny that they have a problem. Here are some of the reasons why someone might deny that they have an issue:

Shame and Guilt

Many people feel ashamed and guilty about their drinking or drug use. They may fear being judged by their family, friends, or colleagues if they admit they have a problem. So instead of facing the truth, they deny that there is an issue to avoid feeling these emotions.

Lack of Education

Sometimes, people don’t understand what constitutes a drinking problem. They may think they are not “bad enough” to seek help because their drinking or drug use doesn’t seem as serious as someone else’s. They feel their activities are excessive casual drinking at most and not an addiction.

Anxiety about Life Without Alcohol

For some people, alcohol and drugs have become a coping mechanism. They may fear that they will not be able to cope with life without these substances, so they deny there’s a problem to avoid addressing this anxiety.

Dual Relationship with Alcohol

It’s common for people to have a love-hate relationship with alcohol or drugs. They may be aware that their drinking is causing problems in their lives, but otherwise, they want to keep using it because it provides them with pleasure or relief from emotional pain. This duality can make it difficult for them to accept that there is a problem.

Dual Relationship with Alcohol

Lack of Future Concern

Sometimes, people in denial don’t think about the long-term effects that their drinking or drug use has on their lives. They may be more focused on the pleasure they get from using and not on how it will affect them down the line. This can lead to a refusal to admit that there is a problem.

Fear of Being Labeled as an “Alcoholic” or “Addict”

Many people fear being labeled as an alcoholic or drug addict if they admit there is a problem. They may fear that they won’t be accepted by society and will be judged harshly by others. This can lead to them denying their issue in order to avoid this stigma.

Fear of the Unknown Recovery Process

Admitting that you have a drinking or drug problem can be frightening. Many fear the unknown and are unsure of what to expect regarding recovery and alcohol addiction treatment. This can lead them to deny their issue to avoid facing this fear.

Resisting Accusations and Blame from Others

When someone denies that they have a drinking problem, it can be because they are trying to avoid being blamed or accused of something by another person. They may feel like the other person is wrong; and don’t want to admit guilt to protect their self-image.

These characteristics make it easy to identify that a person is going through denial about their drinking behavior and needs guidance.

How to Help an Alcoholic in Denial

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can have serious consequences on the health and well-being of individuals. In many cases, those suffering from alcoholism are in denial about their condition and may not even be aware that they need addiction treatment. It’s important to understand how to approach someone in denial about their alcoholism to get them the help they need.

Talk to Them Openly and Without Judgment

Many people with denial may struggle to open up and talk about their feelings. It’s important for the family or friends of the person in denial to be understanding and supportive while expressing concerns if necessary. The best approach is to talk openly but without judgment and acknowledge the person’s thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. Family support is essential during this step.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Listen to what the person says and try not to interrupt or argue.
  • Be understanding and acknowledge their feelings even if you disagree.
  • Acknowledge any decisions they make as best you can without pressuring them into anything.
  • If the conversation is too difficult, take a break and suggest talking more when it feels right.
  • Offer help without being pushy. Let them know you are there for them and can provide resources or support if needed.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional guidance if necessary. Having a qualified mental health professional listen and guide the person through their feelings may be beneficial in working through denial.
  • Above all, remain supportive even when it’s difficult. Acknowledging and validating someone’s experience can go a long way in helping them cope.

Talk to Them Openly and Without Judgment

Ask Open Questions About How Alcohol Has Affected Their Life

Another important aspect is to ask them open questions about the way alcohol affects their life so they can understand the damage it’s doing.

For example, it might be helpful to ask questions such as:

  • How has alcohol affected your relationships with family or friends?
  • How do you feel about yourself when you drink too much?
  • What are the consequences of drinking alcohol daily for you in the long term?

These questions can help someone who is in denial about their alcohol use to confront the reality of its impact on their life and health. At the same time, it’s important not to drive someone into a corner with your line of questioning. By rationalizing the issue, you can assess the degree of denial.

Highlight the physical, mental, and social health risks of alcohol abuse and focus on how they can make positive changes. Explain that with help. It’s possible to break out from the cycle of addiction and dependence. Discuss the availability of support services such as clinics and counseling and emphasize that these are free or low-cost options.

Encourage them to talk about their alcohol use and provide information about available resources. Let them know you are there for support should they seek help.

Help Your Loved One with Professional Support

Professional support and mental health services administration are essential in overcoming a substance abuse disorder, especially a drinking problem.

If you or your loved one is dealing with an alcoholic denial, the proper care can help. Professional support like counseling and therapy guides how to establish new healthy habits and better understand why drinking has become a problem. This can also include recovery support groups for emotional support. Some common therapies for excessive drinking behavior include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to identify and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors associated with drinking. It focuses on developing coping strategies for managing cravings, identifying triggers that could lead to a relapse, and working towards healthier decision-making.
  • Motivational Interviewing: This therapy is designed to support individuals uncertain about changing their drinking habits. It helps people recognize and address the risks associated with their drinking, ultimately helping them make an informed decision about whether or not to stop.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT is another type of therapy that assists individuals in managing their emotions and behavior related to substance use. It teaches patients distress tolerance skills such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

These therapies can be very effective for individuals struggling with a drinking problem. With the right treatment plan, individuals can gain control over their drinking and rebuild a healthier life.

help your loved one

How to Take Care of Yourself While Helping?

Helping an alcoholic in denial isn’t always easy, and mental health care should be at the top of your list. You may feel you’re walking on eggshells and want to do the right thing. To ensure that you can keep yourself healthy while helping, here are some tips:

  • Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Letting out how you feel can help prevent burnout and emotional exhaustion from trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
  • Set boundaries. It’s important to make clear what kind of help you are comfortable providing and what behaviors or actions you will not tolerate. Making sure your boundaries are set beforehand can provide clarity for yourself and the person in denial while helping them through their difficulties.
  • Take care of your own mental and physical health. Set aside time for yourself to do the things that bring you joy, such as exercise or hobbies. Taking care of your own needs is essential to be able to help others effectively.
  • Find support from friends and family members who understand the situation. It can be helpful to have someone related to the person in denial provide advice and support. This can help you stay strong while helping them, and provide an additional source of comfort for the person in denial.
  • Don’t take on too much responsibility. Remember that it’s ultimately up to the individual to accept help and make changes in their life. You cannot do this for them; instead, focus on providing support and a listening ear.

Remember that self-care is essential to help someone struggling with alcohol addiction effectively. Remember these tips and ensure you care of yourself to provide the most effective form of support possible. With patience and compassion, it’s possible to help an individual escape denial and start on their road to recovery.

Rehab for Alcoholism

Once someone in denial about their alcohol use has accepted help, the next step is to seek appropriate treatment. Professional rehab centers can be a great resource for individuals seeking to break the cycle of addiction.

Rehab centers provide comprehensive support for those with an alcohol use disorder, including medical treatment and therapy sessions. Here are some of the treatments they offer:

  • Detoxification: A medically supervised detox program provides a safe environment where individuals can withdraw to stop drinking completely.
  • Individual counseling: One-on-one counseling provides more personalized support and guidance for individuals. Therapists can help them identify the root causes of their drinking and develop healthier coping strategies.
  • Group therapy: This type of therapy helps individuals understand that they are not alone in their struggles and provides a supportive community to lean on throughout the recovery process.
  • Aftercare: Rehab centers also provide aftercare services to help individuals transition into everyday life. This includes continued therapy sessions and support groups that can help with relapse prevention.

Rehab centers offer comprehensive treatment plans for individuals with an alcohol use disorder. They provide the tools necessary to gain control over their drinking and start a life of sobriety.

At NuView Treatment Center, our team of dedicated professionals is here to help individuals in recovery find the resources and support they need to return to living a life free of alcohol dependence. Contact us at (323) 307 – 7997 or email us at to learn more about how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dealing with an alcoholic in denial can be tough. Here are some common questions you might have in mind:

The first step in helping an alcoholic in denial is to provide support and a listening ear. It's important to be non-judgmental and compassionate when discussing the issue, as this can help create an open dialogue. Next, it's important to encourage the individual to seek professional help from counselors or rehab centers specializing in treating alcohol use disorders. Ensuring that you care for your mental and physical health while providing support is important.

It's important to be respectful and non-confrontational when approaching someone in denial about their drinking. Start the conversation by asking open-ended questions encouraging the individual to discuss their feelings and concerns openly. It's also important to remember that, it is up to them to accept help; you cannot do this for them.

Encouraging an alcoholic to seek treatment can be difficult, as they may not be willing to accept that they have a problem. The best approach is to provide support and understanding while discussing the issue. It's also important to be honest about your feelings and let them know that you are there for them no matter their decisions. Providing resources and information about available treatments, such as rehab centers or support groups, is a good idea.

The best way to guide an alcoholic in denial toward recovery is to provide support and compassion. It's important to remember that it's ultimately up to them to decide whether or not they want help; you cannot make this decision for them. You can, however, provide resources and information about available treatments, such as rehab centers or therapy sessions.

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  3. Goldsmith, R. J., & Green, B. L. (1988). A rating scale for alcoholic denial. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 176(10), 614–620.
  4. Cloninger, C. R., Sigvardsson, S., & Bohman, M. (1996). Type I and Type II Alcoholism: An Update. Alcohol health and research world, 20(1), 18–23.
  5. Hell, M. E., Müller, A., Horn, C. G., & Søgaard Nielsen, A. (2022). Personality traits and alcohol consumption: Secondary analysis of the Self-Match Study. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 46(6), 1110–1120.
  6. Vaillant, G. E., & Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S. (1996). The Natural History of Alcoholism. Alcohol health and research world, 20(3), 152–161.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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