By the time a chronic addictive process such
as alcoholism has become frankly problematic
it has invariably acquired a complex and
sophisticated array of psychological defense
mechanisms aimed at protecting its
continued existence by minimizing the cognitive
dissonance the addict experiences as a result of
his progressively irrational self- and usually
other- harmful behavior.
Though he imagines himself to be free - perhaps
even freer than free!- and though he will (because
he is unable to) brook no contradiction to his
will, the addict is nevertheless completely
controlled by and under the thumb of his
In fact his behavior is not determined by his own
will at all but by the will of the addiction that
now constitutes and constructs his reality. For in
addiction, the true self is suppressed or eclipsed
and the false self -the addicted self- installed
in its place as a kind of Vichy regime to execute
the imperatives of its lord and master, addiction.
The addict, that is, supposes that he is making
his own choices when in fact they are being made
for him by his addiction. Yet obvious as this may
be and frequently is to those around him, it is
normally the most difficult thing of all for the
addict himself to grasp or admit.
The will of the addiction is a blind biological
process that is endlessly questing for
gratification and satiation, regardless of the
consequences to the individual himself. Though
such satiation and gratification may be
transiently obtained they are inherently
ephemeral, indeed, self-undermining states that
are quickly followed by a return of the original
distress. The addict purchases an all too brief
remission of his dysphoria(bad feeling) at the
cost of added misery on the other side. Addiction
is thus a kind of Faustian Bargain.
Addiction also resembles the fabled perpetual
motion machine that runs of itself - while the
plight of the individual addict is precisely that
of the unfortunate soul who holds a wolf by its
ears. In such a predicament both holding on and
letting go seem equally undesirable - even
Because addiction is a stereotyped and
fundamentally inhuman process it produces
predictable signs and symptoms that may be used to
gauge the degree of its progress as it penetrates
and invades the personality of the individual
afflicted by it. One set of symptoms of addiction
are the customary excuses the addict makes to
himself and others for the irregularities of
thinking and behavior foisted upon him and those
around him by his addiction.
Common stereotyped addictive defenses include but
are by no means limited to the following:
Primitive and unconscious denial is classified
as a psychotic defense mechanism because it
denies or distorts reality itself. Those in the
grip of psychotic denial are literally out of
touch with reality. Thus an alcoholic with
multiple and perfectly obvious negative
consequences from his pathological
drinking(legal, health, marital and job
problems) may, difficult as this is to believe,
indignantly and -from his perspective- honestly
deny that he has a serious problem with alcohol.
He doesn't know what people who criticize his
drinking are talking about - and he is genuinely
hurt and offended at what he perceives to be
their unfair and unreasonable attacks upon him.
He often reacts to expressions of concern about
his drinking with self-pity, resentment, and -of
course- more drinking.
Minimization and downplaying of the problems
connected with addiction fill in the gaps and
take up the slack left by the failure of
psychotic denial to adjust reality completely to
the requirements of the addiction. The addict
admits that difficulties exist - but he stoutly
maintains, frequently in the face of an
astonishing and rapidly accumulating mountain of
evidence to the contrary, that they are not
really as bad as others make them out to be.
- It wasn't my fault or It's not the
way it looks!
Rationalization and projection of blame attempt
to distance the addict from the consequences of
his(actually, of his addiction's) actions.
Alternative explanations are constructed and
stoutly defended, e.g. the employer who fired
him or the officer who arrested him or the wife
who divorced him were actuated by dishonest or
frankly corrupt motives.
- All I want is a little relief!
Justification of addictive behavior is often
self-pitying and subtly manipulative. The addict
feels victimized, perhaps even martyred by what
he believes to be the unfair circumstances of
his existence and seeks consolation from his
addiction. He believes himself thereby an
exception and entitled to special treatment,
including remission or at least mitigation of
the sins caused by his addictive behavior. The
prospect of giving up his addiction or, even
worse, having it taken away from him by the
unsympathetic demands and requirements of others
fills him with horror and indignation. Blind to
the fact that it is his addiction and its
consequences that are making him miserable, he
falsely believes that the addiction is the only
source of comfort and security available to him
in a cruel, cruel world.
- I'm not hurting anybody but myself!
Frequently phrased as "Leave me alone! I'm not
hurting anybody but myself!" this defense
invokes a legalistic right to self-harm at the
same time as it denies the interpersonal and
social realities of the addict's harmful
behaviors. The addict, unable or unwilling to
recognize how his behavior does in fact impact
and thus harm other people, indignantly and
self-righteously proclaims "It's MY life and I
can do anything I please with it!" Curiously
-and revealingly- the addict seldom finds
anything incongruous in the notion that he might
knowingly and willingly be harming himself,
regardless of whether he is harming anyone else.
- Nobody knows the trouble I've seen!
A blatant claim for special status based upon
self-pity. Because it is seldom as persuasive to
others as it is to the addict himself - other
people usually have difficulty seeing how one's
problems, no matter how severe or unfair,
justify adding further misery resulting from
theoretically avoidable addictive behaviors- the
frustrated addict usually becomes resentful and
sullen, convinced that "nobody really
understands me." This licenses, at least in the
addict's mind, still more flagrant and egregious
addictive acting up and out.
- I've got to be me! or You knew this when
you married me!
Unable to distinguish himself from his
addiction, the addict cannot imagine himself or
existence without the addiction. The prospect of
"losing" the addiction is unthinkable to him
since it would, he believes, mean the loss of
himself and of everything that makes life worth
living. The addict paints a Romantic portrait
for himself and others which, while it may
acknowledge at least some of the destructive
effects of his addiction, attempts to
rationalize the insanity of addictive behavior
as glorious, if tragic self-actualization and
fulfillment, and to represent anything less than
this, e.g. abstinence and sobriety, as a kind of
forfeiture of the self and living death, to
which a premature addictive exitus is much to be
preferred. The fact that many addicts actually
believe such transparent foolishness is a somber
testimony to the power of addictive insanity.
- I HAVE to drink (or drug) for my work!
The addict insists that he will not be able to
make a living or that he will no longer be
successful if forced to "give up" the
increasingly harmful and destructive behaviors
caused by his addiction. He may regard the
latter as "the cost of doing business." In the
vast majority of cases, of course, his addiction
has already begun to impair his work
performance, his judgment, and his interpersonal
- You're not so pure yourself!
Following the adage that "the best defense is a
good offense" the addict seeks to turn the
tables and distract attention from himself by
"attacking the attacker," i.e. the individual
who attempts to point out to him the reality of
his addictive behavior. Under the spur of
necessity to defend their addiction as they are,
most addicts possess a keen eye and a sharp
tongue for the shortcomings and faults of others
- even as they deny or are indifferent to those
of themselves. Thus the addict is often almost
demonically astute at exploiting the
vulnerabilities and Achilles Heels of those who,
wittingly or unwittingly, threaten the
continuance of his addiction.
- Trust me - I know what I am doing!
The addict, blinded to reality by his own
denial, attempts to reassure those who have
begun to wonder about his judgment, perhaps even
about his sanity, that he is in control and that
all will be well. He informs them that he is
perfectly aware there is or may shortly be a
problem, that he does not intend to let it get
out of hand, and that he is or will be taking
steps to control it.
- I can stop any time I want to!
Unaware that his addiction and not he himself
is calling the shots, the addict genuinely
believes that he is choosing to behave the way
he does and therefore he can stop doing so any
time he makes up his mind. Unfortunately for him
and for those who must deal with him, he seldom
makes up his mind to stop(even though he most
certainly could if he wanted to, &etc.
- I'm not nearly as bad as OTHER people!
An almost universal addictive rationalization.
The addict compares himself to people who are in
his opinion in far worse shape than he believes
himself to be and concludes from this that there
is no reason to be concerned about his own
addictive behavior. Since there is always
someone worse off than himself the addict feels
entitled in continuing his addiction.
- I HAVE to drink (or drug) to drown my
The victim of a dysfunctional childhood or the
survivor of a difficult life, the addict
attempts to persuade others, as he has largely
persuaded himself, that continuing to engage in
destructive addictive behavior is a rational and
healthy response to his problems - or that if he
does not drink or drug, he will fall apart or
behave even worse.
- Now is not a good time to stop!
Another nearly universal addictive
rationalization. "I'll quit tomorrow" is a
familiar addictive refrain. The time never seems
quite right to stop - even though the addict may
be or seem to be perfectly sincere in his
determination to cease his addiction "just as
soon as I get through this difficult period." He
may even convince himself and attempt to
convince others that stopping his addictive
behavior immediately would be a bad and
counter-productive idea, and that the chances of
success will be enormously increased if he
delays his attempt to stop until a more
- It will never, ever happen again!
Following an unusually painful or embarrassing
episode caused by his addiction the remorseful,
frequently tearful addict promises those he has
harmed that nothing, absolutely nothing could
ever cause him to repeat such behavior. He may
take the lead in excoriating and flagellating
himself for his unpardonable sin as a
demonstration of penance and a reassurance to
those he has harmed or offended. Almost always
effective in allaying anxiety and soothing hurt
feelings on the first occasion of use, this
defense rapidly loses effectiveness with
repeated use as those whom it is intended to
reassure become, usually with good reason,
- Nobody is going to tell ME what to
The problems caused by addiction are avoided or
obscured by a heroic pose worthy of Patrick
Henry("Give me liberty or give me death!"). By
focusing on his supposed freedom to do as he
wishes -actually the freedom of his addiction to
do as it wishes- the addict sidesteps the more
difficult question of the rationality and sanity
of his behavior. Defiance and oppositional
behavior are common defenses of addicts against
looking at themselves.
- I'd be OK if it weren't for you!
The addict blames his addictive behavior on his
significant other, usually his spouse. He feels
resentful and self-pitying about the way he
considers himself to be treated and uses this to
justify his addiction. Since one of the
commonest causes of resentment and self-pity in
addicts is criticism by others of their
addictive behavior, and since the characteristic
response of the addict to such criticism is to
escalate addictive behavior, this process tends
to be self-perpetuating. The addict is often
quite cruel in highlighting, exaggerating and
exploiting any and every defect or flaw the
significant other may have, or even in
fabricating them out of his own mind in order to
justify and rationalize his own behavior.
- Look at all I have done for you! or
This is the thanks I get!
Another "guilt trip" designed to disarm or
deflect criticism of addictive behavior.
References to the hard work, long hours, job
stress and material status of the family are
common attempts to win sympathy and
understanding for behavior that has become
harmful to the addict and others.
- I don't have time (or money) to get help!
Almost universally deployed whenever the
question of seeking professional assistance or
attending AA or other mutual-support group
meetings comes up. If the addict does actually
take a step to get help -usually as a result of
external prodding of some kind- there is a 98%
probability that he will not agree with the
frequency, intensity or duration of the help
recommended. Underestimation of his problem and
the belief that it can be controlled by what
others more informed about such matters know are
half measures is the rule rather than the
exception in addiction.
Another nearly universal defense. The addict
finally acknowledges and even believes that he
has a significant problem but is adamant that he
can and will deal with it by himself rather than
seeking any kind of professional or support
group help. Because he does not yet understand
the nature of addiction he supposes that
recovery is merely a matter of will power, hence
that it is superfluous or even a disgrace to ask
for help from others for what he ought to be
able to do by himself.
Addiction, Lies and Relationships
Addiction and Its Mechanisms of Defense
Alcohol Addiction: A Psychobiological
The Experience of Deprivation and Loss in
Early Recovery From Addiction
The Female Partner of the Recovering Male
Getting Away With Addiction?
Obstacles to Recovery
Resistances to AA Attendance
is Recovery So Hard?
Your First AA
Meeting: An UNOFFICIAL Guide For the