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Denial and how to spot if you are in it

Published 14/12/2007

The UK is a nation in denial about the effects of alcohol problems on our overall health and well-being. In a late 2006 survey of 4,640 Britons about their health and welfare concerns, only 12 per cent of adults questioned worried about the effect of drinking too much alcohol on their health. Respondents, it seems, were more worried about stress and a lack of sleep and exercise.

That stands in stark contrast to government figures that show that, in 2005, 34 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women had drunk more than the recommended number of units on at least one day in the week prior to interview. Eighteen per cent of men and 8 per cent of women had drunk more than twice the recommended daily intake.

It's worth remembering that denial is not a river in Egypt - overcoming a drinker's denial that they have a problem with alcohol is often the most difficult hurdle on the road to a successful outcome.

"If a problem drinker can admit their problem, they can be helped and supported by professionals. If they can't, there is very little anyone can do for them and the outcome is bleak," says Sue Allchurch, director of the Linwood Manor Group.

Understanding denial, however, is difficult for the person who does not have a problem, she adds. Problem drinkers usually feel guilty about their drinking and quite often try to hide the evidence. If they can maintain the illusion that they don't have a problem, they don't need to feel the fear caused by their lack of control over alcohol -- or change their behaviour.

So what are the telltale signs of denial?

In the early stages of alcoholism, denial has an outward appearance of seemingly logical rationalisations.

  • "I'm not an alcoholic. I haven't missed a day's work in five years."
  • "Real alcoholics lose their jobs, houses and families. That hasn't happened to me."
  • "Drinking is part of the culture where I work."

As the disease progresses, alcoholics are very talented at blaming other people or events for the problem.

  • "I only drink because I'm under pressure at work."
  • "I have a drink to escape from my partner's nagging."
  • "It's not my fault I got into an accident. The other driver was going too fast."

As the problems and crises accumulate, alcoholic denial takes the form of withdrawal and/or escape. At the very least, alcoholics are quite insistent that they do not require any type of outside help.

  • "I'll stop drinking as soon as I get out of this relationship."
  • "I'll be fine as soon as I move away from this dreadful town."
  • "I'm not hurting anybody else, leave me alone."
  • "I don't need help to stop drinking; I can do it by myself."

If any of these statements sound familiar to you, it may be that you are in denial. And if you can start be honest with yourself about the problems that alcohol is creating in your life, then an alcohol rehabilitation programme will assist you in working towards a positive lifestyle change.

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