Denial in the Addicted Family System | Understanding Addiction

denial in the addicted family system

Every family has individuals who play certain roles, making up the family system. In an addicted family system, there may be one who jokes a lot, one who is an overachiever, one who doesn’t get much attention, one who enables, as well as the one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Understanding addiction and how it impacts the entire family is critical to recognizing denial in the addicted family system.

Understanding the Facts About Addiction

While the initial decision to use drugs or drink alcohol may be one of choice, the addiction that can follow is not a matter of a lack of willpower or moral principles. Addiction is a chronic disease. Many people may not understand that fact, including those in the addicted individual’s own family. When you have someone in your family who is addicted, you may wonder why they don’t just stop.

Addiction is complex. Substances such as drugs and alcohol change the brain so that even those people who want to stop using find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to quit on their own. Getting sober is not just a matter of choosing to do so. Addiction is compulsive and difficult to control, even when the individual faces harmful consequences for continuing to use drugs or drink alcohol.

Drugs affect the brain’s reward circuit, as they create a sense of euphoria. Drugs also flood the brain with the chemical messenger dopamine. While a reward system that is functioning properly will motivate a person to repeat certain behaviors that are necessary to thrive, including eating and socializing with loved ones, surges of dopamine will cause pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors to be reinforced. This leads the individual to repeat the behavior again and again, thus the addiction.

Addiction is a Family Disease

When you have a family member who is addicted, it affects everyone in your family. Your daily life may be disrupted by a brother, daughter, sister, or father who continues to use drugs, even though they may see its negative effects on their own health as well as on the health of their family members. Their addictive behaviors can have financial and legal impacts on the family also. Understand that when someone is addicted, they cannot necessarily control it on their own. They need appropriate support from members of their family system.

The Denier in the Family System

While the addicted individual will typically deny that they have a problem, there is usually at least one member of the family who will also deny the issue exists. The denier in the family system may be attempting to maintain family order when they see that it is slowly slipping away. They see how much the individual’s addictive behavior affects the rest of the family and feel that it is all spinning out of control.

The denier will contribute to making the situation worse for the addicted family members as well as the rest of the addicted family system. The little things become bigger things that are then minimized and discounted even as they deny the pain of the addictive behaviors. Those bigger things will turn into huge problems as the addiction continues to be denied.

Trying to Put a Good Face on a Bad Situation

Denial in the addicted family system is often a result of one or more people in the family feeling threatened by what they see as the destruction of the family. In fact, they may sense that their very place in the world is being threatened.  Denial is a dysfunctional attempt to put a good face on a bad situation. The reality of the situation, including the impact of the family member’s addiction, is rewritten as members within the addicted family system attempt to make it less threatening, covering up their growing despair.

Denial simply digs everyone deeper into the addicted individual’s world. When your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they need positive support and professional treatment. Your family members, particularly the ones who play the denier role in the family system, will also benefit greatly from counseling and therapy to help them deal with the reality of the addiction.


Addiction is a family disease. At BRC Recovery, we understand the challenges that can exist for your family when you have a loved one who is addicted. Addiction can negatively impact every member of your family. We are here to help you and your family with an addiction treatment program that is individualized specifically for your needs. We offer you holistic healing in a warm, supportive, community-driven environment that will help you rebuild and reclaim your life.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we offer a safe, clean environment so you can continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery at 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.