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Denial and Drug Addiction, A Serious Problem

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

This November, 2008, The Society for Neuroscience had their annual meeting in Washington D.C. The theme of the meeting was "Impaired insight into illness in Drug Addiction." Many scientists in the fields of neurology and drug addiction shared their findings. Those findings show that the same parts of the brain involved in schizophrenia are affected by drug addiction. What is especially significant about this is that those brain regions impaired insight or awareness about how one is being affected by their own behaviors.

In the case of drug abuse, the impaired insight causes what is referred to as "denial." One definition of denial when applied to drug abuse is "not recognizing the severity of the disorder." In denial, it is as if a person cannot see the problem standing directly in front of them. It’s like "having your head in the sand." In other words, the addict will assure everyone and themselves that they are not addicted, can stop anytime and have full control over what they are doing. By the way, this includes those who chronically use marijuana. Here, I am referring to chronic use as daily and all day long.

It is now thought that craving the drug, feeling compelled to use and chronic relapsing into drug abuse after recovery, may all result impaired insight. In other words, these drug addicted patients have a difficult time recognizing, accepting and admitting to the signs and symptoms of the addiction they suffer from.

When you come right down to it these researchers are reporting that these patients are blind to what their bodies are trying to tell them.

Those of us who work with patients in the field of addiction, find this denial to be the most frustrating and aggravating aspect of working with the addictions. Just to be clear, the entire topic of addiction includes alcohol just as much as all of other drugs from marijuana to methamphetamine.

In my experience, it is amazing to hear someone who spends their entire time inebriated report that they are perfectly fine.

It is hoped that this recent research about insight, brain regions and denial will lead to new treatments.

What are your experiences with either drug abuse or living with a loved one who suffers from drug abuse?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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