The behavior of an alcoholic can be frustrating, but it helps to remember that alcoholism is a legitimate medical condition called alcohol use disorder5. When someone develops an alcohol use disorder, they experience significant changes in brain functioning that limit the ability to control alcohol use. All of this can lead a person to blame other people or circumstances for their alcohol abuse instead of accepting that they have a legitimate medical condition that warrants treatment.

If someone you love is struggling with alcohol use, learning about the reasons behind behaviors like blaming can help you better support your addicted loved one as well as yourself. This overview covers the reasons why people often cope with alcohol addiction through blame, denial and lies.

Denial as a Symptom of Alcoholism 

Before diving deeper into alcoholism and blame, it is helpful to understand denial in alcoholism. Denial2 is closely related to blame, and it can serve as a defense mechanism among people living with alcohol addiction. Many people find themselves in denial about their addiction because it protects them from the painful reality that alcohol has taken control over their lives.

The signs of denial can include:

  • Blame: A person who denies having an alcohol addiction may blame others for their drinking. For instance, instead of accepting that they have a problem, they may say that they have to drink in order to escape their spouse’s nagging.
  • Concealing: An alcoholic in denial is likely to be in the precontemplation2 stage of change, meaning they are not yet willing to even think about getting help for alcoholism. This can cause them to hide or lie about their alcohol use so they do not have to face the reality of their addiction.
  • Defensiveness: An alcoholic in denial is not yet ready to come to terms with their addiction, so they will become defensive when confronted about their drinking. A family member who expresses concern over their loved one’s alcoholism may be met with a defensive reaction; the alcoholic may be quick to change the subject, deny they have a problem or blame the loved one for the issue.
  • Dismissing: Dismissive behavior is another sign of denial. When a loved one expresses concern about a person’s alcohol abuse, the person may tell the loved one they are worrying too much.
  • Rationalization: Someone who is not ready to admit that they have an alcohol problem may rationalize their behavior. They may say something like, “Everyone else is drinking!” They may also make an argument such as, “I never drive drunk, so it’s not a problem!”

Related: Signs of Alcoholism

How To Live With an Alcoholic in Denial

Denial is common in alcoholism, but it can be difficult to cope with. Your instinct may be to argue or fight back against an alcoholic in denial, but this is rarely helpful. If you become angry, you are only likely to increase defensiveness from the alcoholic. Instead, remain calm and have a discussion when the alcoholic is in a seemingly good mood. Be prepared to give specific examples of concerning behavior, and remember to express that you are having this discussion because you care about them.

If you’re trying to cope with an alcoholic who is in denial, there are certain strategies you can use:

  • Avoid enabling behavior: When living with a person addicted to alcohol, it is easy to enable the person’s behavior and become codependent1. This involves attempting to “fix” the person or stepping in to rescue them by covering up their mistakes. You may think you are helping the person, but in reality, you are making it comfortable for them to continue drinking, which only increases their denial.
  • Don’t make excuses: Along with enabling behavior comes the tendency for loved ones to make excuses for the alcoholic’s behavior. You may tell yourself or others that the alcoholic needs to drink to cope with stress, or you may blame others for their problems. This makes it easy for an alcoholic to remain in denial.
  • Care for yourself: Living with an alcoholic can be quite distressing, so it is important to practice self-care to maintain your own well-being. This may involve journaling to reduce your stress, taking time for exercise or even reaching out for therapy.

Related Topic: Types of Alcoholics 

Inability To Overcome Fear as a Symptom of Alcoholism 

Denial and blame among alcoholics can come from a place of fear. They may be fearful of admitting they have a problem, and they may fear the consequences that can result from having an alcohol addiction. Instead of recognizing this fear and attempting to overcome it in order to heal, alcoholics may show signs of denial or blame others.

Experts3 suggest that changes in brain functioning caused by addiction can make it difficult for people with addiction to be self-aware. This means a person who lives with alcohol addiction may not know they are engaging in behaviors like blame and denial to protect themselves from their fears.

When an alcoholic is in denial of their problem, it may be due to one or more common fears.

Fear of Abandonment

Addiction can be viewed negatively by family members because of stigma7, which can make a person afraid to admit to loved ones that they have a problem. The alcoholic might fear that if they admit to having a problem and seek treatment, their loved ones will abandon them.

Fear of Losing a Child/Pet

Another concern that can cause denial and blame among alcoholics is their fear of losing children or pets. They may be worried that if they admit to having a problem, authorities will step in and remove children or pets. They may also be afraid that if they go away to seek treatment, they will have to give up rights to children or pets because they won’t be able to care for them.

Fear of Losing a Job

People who struggle with alcohol addiction may be worried about losing their jobs, especially if their company policy has stipulations regarding alcohol abuse. This can lead them to blame others, become defensive or deny the problem in order to cover up the fact that they have an addiction. They may also be worried that if they admit they have a problem and make the decision to go to rehab, they will be fired for having to miss work.

Guilt as a Symptom of Alcoholism

Another reason someone with alcohol addiction may blame others is to cope with their underlying guilt. Feelings of guilt and shame commonly underlie alcoholism, and they occur when an alcoholic blames themself for their addiction. Guilt and shame6 can lead the person to label themselves as being “bad,” which prevents them from recovering. 

An alcoholic struggling with feelings of guilt may blame others for several different reasons, including:

  • As a coping mechanism for mistakes
  • To maintain their sense of self-esteem
  • Because of the thinking errors that can come with addiction 

Behind all of the guilt, an alcoholic may feel shame and remorse over past mistakes and damage done to family relationships. They may also struggle with an inability to be vulnerable and admit to their own shame. 

How To Break the Habit of Blaming 

People with alcohol addiction may struggle with any number of underlying psychological issues, including shame, guilt, fear and denial. When trying to cope with these factors, it is sometimes easier to blame others rather than face the truth. The good news is that therapy for alcohol addiction can help people overcome these underlying issues and address the thinking patterns that led to denial and continued alcohol abuse. One form of therapy that is especially useful in cases of alcoholism is cognitive behavioral therapy4, or CBT. This form of therapy allows people to overcome distorted ways of thinking, replace them with healthier thought patterns and change negative behaviors like drinking. 

If you or a loved one is seeking alcohol addiction treatment in the South Jersey or Greater Philadelphia area, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. Our professional rehab facility offers a range of services, including medical detoxresidential treatment and outpatient care for alcohol addiction. We offer evidence-based treatments, including CBT, to help people address the problems that led them to alcohol addiction. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs. 

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  2. Carter, Jocelyn; et al. “The Management of Alcohol Use Disorders:[…]ognitive Approaches.” The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2021.
  3. Goldstein, Rita Z.; et al. “The neurocircuitry of impaired insight in drug addiction.” Trends in Cognitive Science, September 2009. Accessed December 19, 2021.
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  6. Randles, Daniel; Tracy, Jessica L. “Nonverbal displays of shame predict rela[…]ecovering alcoholics.” Clinical Psychological Science, 2013. Accessed December 19, 2021.
  7. Volkow, Nora. “Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 22, 2020. Accessed December 19, 2021.
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.