Common Defense Mechanisms Used by Addicts and Alcoholics

By Staff Writer

As individuals develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they do a great deal of damage to themselves and others. They struggle with so many painful thoughts, feelings, and experiences that it’s not surprising they use a host of defense mechanisms to shield themselves from the consequences of their hurtful actions.

The following are a few of the most common defense mechanisms used by addicts and alcoholics:

• Denial: Refusal to acknowledge or admit that a problem exists or that the drinking or drug use has gotten out of control. By denying the existence of a problem, the addict can continue using without facing the real issues. (“I can quit any time I want to”; “My drug use is only recreational”)

• Projection: Assigning one’s own negative feelings or unacceptable qualities to others. This allows the addict to escape from acknowledging that he is the one with a problem. (“I don’t have a problem, but you do”)

• Rationalization: Offering reasons that purportedly justify the use drugs or alcohol (“I drink because work, marriage, life is hard”)

• Withdrawing/Isolation: Abandoning relationships, jobs, geographic areas to avoid facing the addiction.

• Minimizing: Lying about or downplaying the amount of drugs or alcohol used or the severity of the addiction (“I only have a couple drinks a night – it’s not a big deal”)

• Blaming: Shifting responsibility for one’s actions to other people or pointing to others as the cause of the behavior (“I drink because my parents are too harsh”; “I wouldn’t drink so much if my spouse would treat me better”)

While defense mechanisms can be helpful in protecting people in the short term, using them to maintain addictive behaviors, avoid reality, and ignore the consequences of one’s actions is damaging to the addict and everyone around him. It can be very difficult to use logic, facts, or the opinions of others to “talk someone out of” defenses like denial. In most cases, addicts need specialized treatment in order to acknowledge and begin to work on the issues underlying their addiction.

Effective addiction treatment helps individuals develop more mature defenses, accept personal responsibility, and build better coping skills. For example, Sober Living by the Sea is a network of addiction treatment centers that includes The Rose (drug rehab for women) and The Landing (drug rehab for men) in Newport Beach, Calif., which has been ranked in the top 10 luxury rehabs by Forbes because of its unmatched range of esteem-building, sober activities.

Located directly on the sands of the Pacific Ocean, these drug treatment programs take advantage of their stunning surroundings by offering surfing and fishing expeditions, trips to local amusement parks, museums, and attractions, and a variety of sports programs. By building clients’ self-esteem and sense of personal power, these programs help reduce the need for recovering addicts to “defend themselves” with denial or other defense mechanisms.


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