Dealing with Defense Mechanisms in Addiction

In case you didn’t know already, addiction is a liar. It will do whatever it can to keep itself alive. One of the primary ways that it does so is through the use of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are simply thought/behavior patterns that addicts use to continue on our path to destruction. They come in many forms and I am going to cover just a few of the more prominent ones:

Types of Defense Mechanisms

Denial – The granddaddy of defense mechanisms. “I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM!!!” I would yell. In the meantime, my physical and mental health took a beating, all in the name of me having a “good time.” The unfortunate reality is that by being in denial, I lost so much…relationships, jobs, not to mention any semblance of integrity I may have had.

Blaming – This occurs when the addict refuses to take personal responsibility for his actions and then places the blame on others. For instance, when I was in active addiction and had an accident with my mother’s car, I blamed the other driver instead of owning up to my irresponsible actions.

Lying – In my addiction, I flat out lied a lot. I lied about everything from where I was going, to who I was with, to saying that I was not under the influence (when in reality I was). The funny thing is that I thought that I was getting away with these things, but in reality, people knew I was lying and would call me out on it.

Rationalization – “It’s the weekend!” I would say. Like that is an excuse to go out and get high. “Doesn’t everybody?” I would proclaim. My thinking was skewed. I was so deluded by both my addiction and mental illness that I figured that my actions were “normal” or whatever that means. Once again, others saw that I had a problem but I was oblivious.

These are just a few. There are many others: manipulation, projecting, intellectualizing. And the list goes on, and on, and on. Relationships are one particular area affected by defense mechanisms. As a result of the lying, rationalization and other negative behaviors, trust is ultimately corrupted. It can take years to restore any sense of trust, if at all.

Acceptance is the Key

So how does one overcome the use of defense mechanisms? That’s a good question. The key, I believe, lies in acceptance. Unfortunately, this can sometimes come as a result of a significant life changing event, like the alcoholic receiving a DWI or an addict losing a job as a result of her use. Whatever the reason, acceptance of one’s illness is crucial. Through acceptance, we are able to free ourselves from the bondage of our defense mechanisms. It’s like being able to look through a window that was once dirty. We can then see the beauty of the world around us.

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2012, May 7). Dealing with Defense Mechanisms in Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

May, 10 2016 at 2:41 pm

I have read many articles and blogs on addiction. Rarely, if ever have I ever found any scientific reference for all the claims that were made. About the only blogs I have found references is in a blog named Substance Matters, author's name I can't recall.
Nevertheless, clinicians, practitioners and lay counselor pay a lot of lip service to science and use the buzzword "evidence-based", but when I read articles, I can't find evidence that the claims made have any bases on accuracy and professional accountability. Most clinicians seem to be practicing by agreement and personal biases and "educational intuitions" but not much by scientific evidence.
Defence mechanism is a hypothesis that goes back to Sigmund Freud. Freud's claims and assertions were based on Case Studies and not research. Case Studies without research amounts to no more than guessing. Conclusive research have found that such preparations and assertions are frequently extremely fallible.
Just based on statistical probability one finds that by pure coincidence some such guessing appears accurate and correct giving the impression to the naive, science illiterate practitioner that the whole assertions is accurate. And many extrapolations are made thinking that the assertions are correctly prepared when in reality there is a lot more flaws than the practitioner realized.
Unfortunately, missinform gets passed on to others who accepts such untested hypothesis at face value and without question.
A lot of clinical hypothesis and claims made in mental health are made in very similar fashion leading to a lot of errors.
I continuously recommended to clinical practitioner to become more competent in the sciences. More clinicians are seeing the ethical value of such recommendation for the sake of the patients and the profession.

John W.
January, 18 2013 at 9:40 am

Thanks for sharing. I think more than anything acceptance is the key to my problems when I don't accept something it becomes a problem. It seems simple enough but until I admitted I was the problem I didn't grow because my ego held me back. Today I am humble and try to speard the word about acceptance. My story can be found by going to my website, unfortunately it is only on Kindle but it will have a 2nd addition in a couple weeks and I am working on a paperback.
Keep the faith, John W.

May, 12 2012 at 8:03 am

Boy do I know about defense mechanisms when it comes to drug addiction. As you mentioned; blaming, lying, rationalization, etc., are tactics I used for so many years in order to justify my own actions and how they devastated the lives of those who loved & cared for me most. To this day I know without question that acceptance is a core principle in my own recovery and yet, there always emerges those days that I just want to pout and scream like a 3 yr old rather than accept life on life's terms (LOL). Thank you for your wonderful post, may it save lives and mend families!!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 13 2012 at 11:16 am

Thanks Ron. It's a blessing to have made it to "the other side" and gain a healthy perspective of what is real.

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