It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to understand addiction on even the most basic of levels. Until we were able to accumulate research and observations, the common belief was that addicts were simply bad people, weak in will and in character and lacking a close relationship with God. As a result of this misguided consensus, people who exhibited problematic substance abuse behavior were punished by either being sent to insane asylums or prisons. The idea behind the punishment was to deter these types of behaviors since it was assumed that addiction was the voluntary or willful lack of self-control. By imprisoning addicts, it was thought that they could be forced into sobriety while the fear of additional incarceration would discourage them from returning to their previous substance abuse behaviors, but that’s not how it happened. We soon noticed that there was something more to substance abuse than met the eye.
When a person continues to abuse alcohol or drugs in spite of the many consequences and ramifications that directly result from those behaviors, there’s clearly something more happening than what punishment can address. Many of the people who were incarcerated for their substance abuse problems would quickly resume their indiscretions upon being released from imprisonment. Punishment was clearly not the way to prevent continued substance abuse. These were individuals who were clearly behaving in ways that defied logic and reasons, which was suggestive of some type of mental disorder. However, it would be a number of years before we would have definitive knowledge of the true origins of addiction.
Today, we know that addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing disease of the brain. It doesn’t develop overnight, but rather it develops as the cumulative result of continuous substance abuse. When it does develop, there’s no cure for the disease. Instead, a person who has become addicted to a mind-altering substance can only earn back his or her sobriety through an addiction treatment program, which consists of a number of different treatments and recovery techniques that effectively push the disease of addiction into remission. There’s much potential for success in addiction treatment programs, but they require an addict to actually participate in the program. Addicts exhibit a number of different mental and emotional traits that they use to avoid the recovery process, one of which is a phenomenon related to denial called minimizing. Since this is a very important and extremely harmful characteristic of addiction, we will be focusing on minimization below, explaining what it is, what it means, and why it’s so dangerous.
To an addict’s family members, friends, and other loved ones, the transformation from non-addict to addict is obvious. People in an addict’s life can readily compare how the individual is while in the throes of addiction to how they were previously when they were not addicted. However, addicts are typically much less able to make this comparison. Part of the issue is that, even though it doesn’t take very long to develop an addiction, it seems to an addict that the transformation is extremely gradual. Therefore, they often don’t feel as though becoming addicted has caused them to change very much from how they were previously since the transformation was extremely incremental to the addict. This often results in minimization.
When an addict minimizes his or her addiction, he or she is essentially conveying the belief that he or she is either not addicted or that his or her addiction is much less severe than most other addicts and, therefore, doesn’t warrant addiction treatment. It’s very often for addicts who are minimizing to compare themselves to addicts who are suffering from much more severe addictions, including those who fit the description of the archetypal addict: homeless, malnourished, possibly having contracted some type of disease through shared drug use, resorting to criminal behaviors in order to sustain his or her addiction. The addict will explain that his or her still having a job or not having committed crimes to sustain their addiction is evidence that he or she doesn’t need treatment. In fact, it’s very common for addicts who are minimizing to insist that they’re not even addicted at all; rather, they maintain that they’re using the substance in a safe way that doesn’t indicate an addiction. If you’re perceptive, you’ll notice that minimization sounds a lot like another psychological feature of addiction: denial.
Denial is an extremely common characteristic of addiction that might even be considered a hallmark of the addicted mind. Addicts are frequently in denial for a number of different reasons: to ease the guilt they feel over harm they’ve caused others, to be able to remain resistant to recovery, to justify their substance abuse and the things they do to obtain their desired substances, and so on. Denial is very much like minimization with one chief difference, which is that denial is about completely rejecting an idea that’s factual because of its implications or connotations while minimizing is about placating oneself or others by asserting that a problem or issue is not nearly as severe as it may seem.
There are many inherent — and obvious — problems with minimization. For one thing, minimization is often used by addicts who are trying to remain in active addiction. If their family members and friends believe them, these addicts will be able to remain in active addiction while their substance abuse problems continue to escalate in severity, making it more and more likely that they’ll lose their lives in an overdose or end up making horrible mistakes like committing crimes in order to sustain their addictions.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction and would like to discuss the treatment options that are available, call Intervention Services toll-free at 877-478-4621. Our team of recovery specialists are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, so don’t wait another moment. Call us today to begin the journey back to health, happiness, and fulfillment.