Defense Mechanisms In Addiction

We all have defense mechanisms that help us through life. Such defense mechanisms are responsible to save us in dangerous situations. So it is not a surprise that people use defense mechanisms in addiction. The problem arises though when the perception of danger we cultivate in ourselves through time changes from one person to another. For example, jumping from a high bridge in a bungee jumping adventure is fun for one and an unacceptable dangerous situation for another.

This idea of what is danger goes beyond seemingly adventurous activities and stretches to behavior, and naturally, that is subject to interpretation too. Similarly, binging on alcohol or doing drugs at a party with friends can be justified as an action that is fun as long as it is not an everyday thing and only happens once in a while. This is one of our defense mechanisms in addiction at work, defending our actions.

Justification of what we do is the most common use of our defense mechanisms in addiction that we employ to show that an activity is normal. Justification is the most common behavior among drug users and alcoholics. 

In those struggling with substance abuse, denial is the first self-defense mechanism in addiction used to defend drinking or drug use from “negative attacks.” Actions that are easily contributed to the use of drugs or alcohol by others are defended by shifting blame. This includes pointing to various reasons being responsible for those actions and trying to convince others that the negative actions and consequences experienced have nothing to do with the use of substances.

What Are The Self-Defense Mechanisms In Addiction?

Defense mechanisms in addiction are behaviors individuals use to detach themselves from unpleasant:

  • Thoughts
  • Actions
  • Events

For example, an individual’s positive defense mechanism can be when someone decides to channel his or her strong feelings and emotions into a more appropriate activity such as exercise instead of lashing out at others. People with negative defense mechanisms in addiction often lash out and blame those close to them such as their:

  • Family members
  • Coworkers
  • Bosses

It is extremely beneficial to channel negative thoughts, emotions, and feelings into more positive activities though. Examples of such positive activities include: 

  • Music
  • Sports
  • Art

Defense mechanisms in addiction can also be utilized for individuals to distance themselves from unpleasant feelings, specifically shame and guilt. In various cases, individuals can use these types of psychological responses unconsciously. Therefore, many individuals don’t consciously decide to utilize defense mechanisms in addiction. 

Defense mechanisms in addiction are approaches used by individuals struggling with drug and alcohol abuse issues. The defense mechanisms in addiction can assist individuals abusing substances by making them:

  • Rationalize irrational behaviors 
  • Ignore situations 
  • Resist change

There has been identified research by various defense mechanisms in addiction. Some defense mechanisms in addiction are typically utilized more than other ones. 

Self-Defense Mechanisms In Addiction

The following are self-defense mechanisms in addiction:

  • Denial
  • Rationalization
  • Projection
  • Regression
  • Displacement 
  • Avoidance
  • Repression 
  • Procrastination 
  • Compartmentalization

The top 3 self-defense mechanisms in addiction are:


Denial is the refusal to accept reality and factual information. It strives to contradict reality. Individuals with substance use disorders might believe that they are honest people by blocking out unwelcome events from their minds. That way they don’t have to deal with intense emotional impact. It’s truly an avoidance of unpleasant feelings. What presents to be evident to individuals surrounding those struggling with addiction, such as alcohol or drugs, is ignored or avoided by those with substance use disorders. 


For individuals with challenging substance use disorders, rationalization provides efficient reasons for them to continue to use alcohol or drugs, instead of facing the actual cause and reasons for why they use and abuse alcohol and drugs. 

Repression and rationalization allow struggling individuals to forget the negative consequences of their behaviors and find reasons for those consequences. Repression and rationalization are used to defend oneself against:

  • Protecting self against criticism
  • Maintaining self-respect 
  • Feelings of guilt 

These defense mechanisms in addiction are used as attempts to explain displeasing behaviors with one’s own set of “facts.” This has the potential to allow a person to feel comfortable with his or her decision to continue abusing substances. 

Normally, individuals will admit that they have substance use issues but rationalize it by blaming other forces instead of themselves for their issues. For example, people with substance use issues may blame the following for their drug use habits: 

  • Childhood experiences
  • Stress
  • Grief
  • Work

There are other techniques used to defend substance use, like undoing a bad situation with good behavior. A husband buying flowers for his wife after a bad fight when intoxicated is an example of this technique. 


The projection mechanism has the habit of placing blame for a problem on someone else other than one’s self. Typically what occurs here is the feelings and thoughts of a particular person extend onto someone else. For example, an angry individual might accuse others of being angry. 

Projection enables individuals that are uncertain about expressing their anger to alter, “I hate her/him to “He/she hates me.” Thus, projection is attributing thoughts, desires, and feelings that individuals cannot accept about themselves and placing them instead onto others. 

The projection defense mechanism can be negative or positive. In the case of substance use disorders, projection is unconsciously utilized as a method to shift blame. Thus, projection as it pertains to substance abuse and addiction is negative.


Regression is when individuals refuse to take responsibility, avoid talking about problems, and hide from the truth. It causes people to resort back to childlike behaviors. Thus, regression is when individuals can escape into earlier development stages of their life. 

Regression is caused by experiencing loss or trauma, feeling threatened, or feelings of anxiety. This self-defense mechanism in addiction can occur in children and adults. The person regressing will suddenly act younger and might begin exhibiting child-like behaviors such as:

  • Sleeping with a stuffed animal 
  • Chewing on pencils 
  • Overeating 

Regression is mainly about experiencing a sense of comfort while feeling overwhelmed. Substance use disorders usually lead to traumatic events, therefore making regression more of a possibility. 


Displacement is targeting powerful emotions such as frustration towards an object or person that isn’t intimidating. It has the power of allowing individuals to satisfy their impulses by reacting and getting angry about situations without risking monumental consequences. Examples of situations that people get angry about and often displace include:

  • Being abandoned
  • Getting arrested
  • Being fired 

Self-defense mechanisms in addiction such as displacement explain why individuals lash out to those who are closest to them, such as family members and friends, when they have issues at work, home, or even with themselves. This is typically a problem that occurs with individuals struggling with substance use disorder. 


Avoidance consists of staying clear from specific situations, environments, things, and individuals. This type of avoidance can be due to predicted negative consequences that encounter these individuals, places, or things due to painful and anxious feelings associated with them. Avoidance is an approach utilized to cope with anxiety or a response to shame or fear. 

For example, individuals struggling with substance use disorders may avoid seeing family members or friends who disagree with their life choices. Avoiding these people allows one to continue to engage in dangerous behaviors without having to deal with the shame surrounding them. 


Repression deals with the person unconsciously hiding unwanted thoughts, illogical beliefs, and painful memories. The goal is by repressing them one will forget about them entirely. However, the thoughts, beliefs, and memories do not disappear. Instead, they might impact relationships, create anger or sadness, and influence behaviors unconsciously. 


Most of us are familiar with the most prevalent self-defense mechanism in addiction, the one many are guilty of, procrastination. Procrastination may affect all of us in terms of loss of productivity, profit, and time, but in those struggling with addiction, the consequences of procrastination can be devastating.


Compartmentalization is used to justify unsavory behaviors like stealing or ignoring family responsibilities and yet keep a facade of being a good son, daughter, mother, husband, etc.

Why Is It Crucial To Identify Self-Defense Mechanisms?

It is paramount to identify self-defense mechanisms in addiction to determine if they are negatively affecting the individual’s ability to cope with daily life. There are many classified and identified self-defense mechanisms in addiction that human beings use to cope and ultimately deal with their reality. Depending on the use, it can present to be positive or negative. 

Rationalization, denial, and projection are extremely detrimental for an individual struggling with substance use disorder to reach a complete recovery. It’s essential that a person with drug use issues accepts reality, admits having a problem, and does not blame drug or alcohol addiction on someone else for their issues. Engaging in these action steps can solidify a long-lasting recovery for individuals struggling with substance addiction. 

We here at Florida Center for Recovery understand that self-defense mechanisms in addiction are a natural occurrence that brains develop to deal with life events or life on a psychological level. The problem lies in when the self-defense mechanisms in addiction are used to defend, support, and deflect a drug and alcohol addiction. Addiction is multifaceted and it’s possible to recover by attending a nurturing and safe atmosphere such as Florida Center for Recovery.  

Recovery Awaits at Florida Center for Recovery

Florida Center for Recovery provides comprehensive addiction treatment in the form of medically-assisted detox, and inpatient care that contains various forms of addiction therapy, such as individual therapy, group therapy, and intensive family therapy. 

Our addiction treatments here at Florida Center for Recovery are evidence-based. They even incorporate an array of complementary holistic therapies.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance addiction and would like to explore addiction treatment options, feel free to give us a call.