Denial in addiction is a defense mechanism that those abusing drugs or alcohol will need to overcome in order to kick their addiction disorders. This is because Step 1 of the 12-steps deals with overcoming denial and “admitting we are powerless …” If you suffer from stinking thinking in addiction, you’ll act like an addict omnipotent, powerful, controlling, loud and pretending like you’re still fully in control of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Stinking thinking in addiction refers to how you stay lost in denial that your life is unmanageable chaos, whether hidden from others or not. 

Denial is the PRIMARY psychological symptom of addictions. It is an automatic and unconscious component of addictions.  Addicts and alcoholics are often the last to recognize their disease, pursuing their addictions into the gates of insanity, a collapse of health and ultimately death. Sadly, many addicts continue to act out on their addictions while their world collapses around them – blaming everything but the addiction for their problems. This is stinking thinking in addiction!

Denial is one of the reasons that recovery from addictions is seldom effective if the addict or alcoholic person is ‘forced’ into treatment and continuously rebels. You cannot work on a problem unless you accept that it exists.

Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous deals with working through our denial, allowing us to accept our powerlessness over addictions and the chaos and unmanageability they bring into our lives.  (This is just one of the curious and beautiful things about recovery – in acknowledging powerlessness the addict is empowered to lead a healthy life.)

Active alcoholism and addiction are characterized by a struggle to control use. Addicts and alcoholics resent the suggestion they are powerless until things get so bad they are forced to face their addiction. Sadly, some alcoholic / addicts never break through their denial, and continue use to the point of insanity and death.


There are many sub-types of denial:

Projection; “I don’t have a problem but you obviously do.”

Rationalization: “You would drink if you had a wife like mine”.

Intellectualization: The expert who knows everything about nothing yet believes they are very engaging!  Minimizing: “Sure I drink the odd glass of wine but it’s not a problem and no one minds”

Suppression: Swallowing down uncomfortable memories of our addiction behavior and any known consequences.

Withdrawing:  Leaving relationships, jobs, rehabilitation centers; rather than facing problems

Geographical escapes: My life is a little bit chaotic, but I will be much better if I move to a place of my choosing

Why do people deny they need help?

There are many reasons for stinking thinking in addiction. One reason is that people generally do not like to feel helpless and out-of-control and this is particularly true for the addict. The addict will blame everything and everyone except their own substance abuse for their problems. Another reason is that the addict may be using drugs or alcohol to cover up or numb unpleasant feelings and by stripping away the denial (and drugs and alcohol), the unpleasant feelings will come to the surface. While not all substance abusers have suffered past traumas in their lives, an inordinate amount have. Child sexual or physical abuse is common in the addicted population as are other kinds of trauma such as those suffered in wartime, rape or by other victims of violent crimes. Addicts may be using drugs or alcohol to numb the uncomfortable feelings from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from past traumas which will eventually need to be dealt with in order for full recovery to occur.

But, no matter what the cause is of the denial, the important part is that the addict confronts the defense mechanism head on. This may be by what some addicts describe as “hitting bottom” or can come from confrontation with family, friends or through the court systems. Many times an addict will lose a job, friends or family relationships because of the addiction and start to face the denial because their lives truly have become unbearably unmanageable. Stinking thinking in addiction is not a linear course, either. The addict may be in denial at some times, and facing reality at others, so addiction in denial may be fluid especially in the beginning stages of recovery. Even for those who are far along the recovery path, falling off the wagon and denial can strike at any time and will need to be overcome once again to get back on track. Perhaps ‘Linkin Park’ talked about confronting denial best in their song “Breaking the Habit” when they said, “I’ll paint it on the walls, ’cause I’m the one at fault” in acknowledgement that a habit is indeed a personal disease for which one needs to take responsibility in order to break free.

Effects on Others

Stinking thinking in addiction is painful and causes frustration for those who care about the addict. The destructive progression of the addiction is obvious to everyone except the addict. Sometimes when family members release the addict (with love, if possible) and tell the addict they no longer want a relationship, the addict accepts the need for help. In other situations, the addict uses that rejection as another excuse to justify using more.

MINDFULLNESS PRACTICE: Change your EITHER….OR (exclusive/closed), thinking to BOTH….AND  (inclusive/open thinking). Take a look at the following compilation of words below. Addicts are very closed off. They are always saying no, contrary to popular belief. No to change, no to suggestions, no to stopping, no to the awareness of the damage they cause. No, no no! The word and, as simple as it is, is a way through stinking thinking in addiction. It is potentially the beginning of a journey towards a new way of being. Addicts need to change one thing – EVERYTHING! Learning to say and instead of if, then or either, or is a way through stinking thinking in addiction towards acceptance of what is and what should be.

The Shining Word “And”

“And” teaches us to say yes

“And” allows us to be both-and

“And” keeps us from either-or

“And” teaches us to be patient and long-suffering

“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration

“And” keeps us from dualistic thinking

“And” does not divide the field of the moment

“And” helps us to live in the always imperfect now

“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything

“And” demands that our contemplation become action

“And” insists that our action is also contemplative

“And” heals our racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism

“And” keeps us from the false choice of liberal or conservative

“And” allows us to critique both sides of things

“And” allows us to enjoy both sides of things

“And” is far beyond anyone nation or political party

“And” helps us face and accept our own dark side

“And” allows us to ask for forgiveness and to apologize

“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things

“And” is the way of mercy

“And” makes daily, practical love possible

“And” does not trust love if it is not also justice

“And” does not trust justice if it is not also love

“And” is far beyond my religion versus your religion

“And” allows us to be both distinct and yet united

“And” is the very Mystery of Higher Power and the Trinity


denial arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn’t exist denying that your physician’s diagnosis of cancer is correct and seeking a second opinion


taking out impulses on a less threatening target slamming a door instead of hitting as person, yelling at your spouse after an argument with your boss
intellectualization avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects focusing on the details of a funeral as opposed to the sadness and grief
projection placing unacceptable impulses in yourself onto someone else when losing an argument, you state “You’re just Stupid;” homophobia
rationalization supplying a logical or rational reason as opposed to the real reason stating that you were fired because you didn’t kiss up the the boss, when the real reason was your poor performance
reaction formation taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety having a bias against a particular race or culture and then embracing that race or culture to the extreme
regression returning to a previous stage of development sitting in a corner and crying after hearing bad news; throwing a temper tantrum when you don’t get your way
repression pulling into the unconscious forgetting sexual abuse from your childhood due to the trauma and anxiety
sublimation acting out unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way sublimating your aggressive impulses toward a career as a boxer; becoming a surgeon because of your desire to cut; lifting weights to release ‘pent up’ energy
suppression pushing into the unconscious trying to forget something that causes you anxiety

Ego defenses are not necessarily unhealthy as you can see by the examples above.  In face, the lack of these defenses, or the inability to use them effectively can often lead to problems in life.  However, through stinking thinking in addiction, we sometimes employ the defenses at the wrong time or overuse them, which can be equally destructive.

For more help with stinking thinking in addiction contact us on 0824424778, or email us.