Among my pet peeves about Dr. Phil-esque beliefs around addiction is the concept that someone who’s addicted to something is “in denial” about his or her addiction. To be “in denial” means that a person is consciously choosing to ignore the truth his or her addiction. However, a person who is addicted to something, whether it’s a process or a substance, cannot consciously make the choice to ignore the circumstance.
Again, one of the three (3) C’s of Addiction is, Compulsion. To review, compulsion is, “compulsion is, “An uncontrollable impulse to perform an act, often repetitively, as an unconscious mechanism to avoid unacceptable ideas and desires which, by themselves, arouse anxiety” (2007, American Heritage Medical Dictionary). I added the emphasis to underscore the fact that someone who is addicted to something is no longer aware of the behaviors associated with the addiction.
Once the addiction process is triggered, the person literally goes into automatic pilot until the target of the addiction is acquired and consumed. Until that point, all behaviors occur without conscious thought or choice. These unconscious behaviors are ritualized; the body begins its preparation for the target through the addiction ritual. For example, a heroin user usually uses heroin in the same way; that is, he or she has a “rig” that consists of an arm tie to draw veins, a spoon to cook heroin, and a needle to inject the heroin. He or she usually employs the rig in the same way, every time, he or she injects heroin. The ritualized pattern of use is referred to as the “setting” aspect of addiction and may involve other people.
However, regardless of the setting, the person struggling with an addiction cannot, by definition, deny the addiction. It’s as if the person literally “blacks-out” when triggered and doesn’t return to “consciousness” until satiated. Therefore, I hope and wish and pray that archaic beliefs such as being “in denial” would get thrown out of the Addiction lexicon. Once that and other myths are gone, perhaps we can all start understanding and working with those who struggle with addictions as people who need healing and compassion, not judgment and shame.