People with addiction or substance abuse problems use different forms of denial to keep themselves in the addictive cycle. Denial can be a dysfunctional protection mechanism which you may use to protect yourself from having to recognise, deal with and accept the reality of what is occurring in your life. This is often unconscious.

To recover from addiction, it is incredibly important to be able to identify denial. The 12 patterns of denial were developed by international addiction expert Terence Gorski to help identify complicated denial strategies used by addicts and alcoholics.

Flight into health essentially refers to the powerful positive feelings experienced by an addict or alcoholic after getting clean and sober. While this seems like a good thing, addicted people use this to convince themselves and others that they are ‘cured’ when, in fact, addiction is a chronic disease that needs lifelong management. Believing one is cured will ultimately lead that person back to substances as they believe they are now in control. Read on to find out more about how people with chemical dependency use flight into health as a denial strategy to safeguard their addictive behaviours.

What is Denial in Addiction?

Denial is the first issue to address when addicted persons enter treatment or try other ways of recovering from their substance use disorder.

Denial is when someone

  • Ignores reality
  • Downplays reality
  • Distorts reality

Reality is painful and difficult, and the addict turns to substances or other addictive behaviours to cope – i.e., to escape.

In the words of Dr Diamond: “The addict cannot tolerate reality… Neither internal reality nor external reality”. “They find reality repugnant, uncomfortable, and overwhelming, and prefer, like the psychotic, withdrawal into fantasy, bliss, or oblivion over reality.”

The first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and other 12-step programmes, is completely geared at confronting and overcoming denial: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol/drugs – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Without truly confronting and overcoming denial, no matter how much you want to get better, denial will trip you up and prevent you from recovering. This can be a tricky process because denial comes in so many forms and has become so normalised to the addict that they struggle to even recognise when they are using a given pattern of denial.

The 12 patterns of denial: #9 Flight into health

What is Flight Into Health in Addiction Denial?

“Feeling better means that I’m cured”

When someone stops using drugs or drinking for a few weeks it is often remarkable how much better they feel relatively quickly.

As they start to feel better, the pain and ill-health they experienced in addiction fall further into the past and become more distant memories. They might start to think that, because they feel so well, they are ‘cured’.

They may tell themselves that they no longer need to follow a programme of recovery, attend 12 step meetings or continue seeing a counsellor.

This is a pattern of denial that can precipitate a relapse because the addicted person forgets they have a life-long disease that requires life-long treatment in the form of a recovery programme.

Some people may begin to convince themselves that things weren’t that bad and they could probably control their use of substances now. Their new-found wellness can deceive them about the power of their disease.

Read more about the 12 patterns of denial below: