The first of the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is simply for an alcoholic or addict to admit that they are powerless to control their problem with alcohol or drugs. As much as you would like to take this step for them, you can't. So, what can you do to get them to see reality and help yourself cope with the situation?

Why do addicts and alcoholics deny their very clear problem? Thoughts can profoundly affect how people feel. Addicts and alcoholics may fall into any number of negative thought patterns; these influence how they perceive the world and respond to others. There are many reasons (not all of them completely logical to an observer) why an addict or alcoholic might be in denial about their problem. These may include any of the following:

  • The addiction is masking some other problem in their life and giving up the substance would force them to deal with that other problem.
  • They do not want to look weak to others by admitting that they do not have control over the situation.
  • They like the attention that they receive from others – or the changes in the behavior of others that their addiction produces – and do not want to go back to "life as usual."
  • They may have created their own separate reality in which the addiction is not considered problematic; therefore, they may genuinely believe that they do not have a problem.

How can I persuade an addict that there is a problem? The good news is that having family and friends who are willing to admit there is a problem is a positive first step. Because of lingering social stigmas, some families try to hide a loved one's problem from the world. But, how do you get the addict to the next step? If you have tried and failed to persuade the addict, why keep trying the same strategies? They clearly are not working! If you have not been able to get the addict to admit that they have a problem, maybe you should try to get them to persuade themselves that they do. How can you do this? First, make sure that you aren't doing anything to contribute to the addiction. Addicts often come to a realization that the addiction can't continue if their life becomes unmanageable; but if they have access to your food, your home, your money, your car, your company, and your sympathy, this realization is delayed. Next, consider arranging an intervention. What you have been unable to do alone may be more persuasive to the addict when they are approached by a unified group of people who love them. Don't be judgmental, but do be firm in your convictions about how your relationship with the addict will change if they refuse help. To be as effective as possible and increase your chances of success, you may want to consider hiring a professional interventionist. Finally, if the addict continues to refuse treatment and insists there is not a problem (and they may), be prepared to move on. Seeing a therapist can help you learn how to cope with a troubling situation, especially if your relationship to the addict makes it difficult for you to separate yourself from them and if you continue to feel guilt, worry, shame, or other negative emotions.