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Defense Mechanisms
& Substance Abuse

Common Defense Mechanisms Associated with Drug & Alcohol Addictions

Defense mechanisms get a bad rap. The phrase is most often used to describe behavior that is maladaptive and causing problems. However, everyone uses defense mechanisms at some point in life, often without realizing that their adaptive behavior qualifies as “defensive.”

When it comes to defense mechanisms, the question is not whether they are there, but, rather, are they nonconstructive and unhealthy. Defensive strategies can be healthy, but are more likely causing problems that where the cause and effect is unclear.

Unhealthy defense mechanisms often arise when someone is faced with something that he or she does not know how to deal with. Some common mechanisms are repression, denial, projection, displacement, and regression. The common theme in these defense mechanisms is that facing the problem head on is not achieved.

Examples of Defense Mechanisms that Influenced Active Addiction

Denial involves an individual refusing to see, believe or understand that a situation is bad, or occurring at all. Repression pushes disturbing memories and thoughts into the subconscious, making the individual unaware of the situation. Projection is when a person puts his or her own unwanted or unacceptable thought or motives onto another person.

Displacement is where a substitute is used to satisfy a desire, such as someone might punch their spouse when they want to punch their boss. Regression is the psychological movement into an earlier time when the present stress did not exist.

These defense mechanisms can prevent a person from fully engaging with the world and reality. In the case of denial and others, a person’s defense mechanisms can aid in the perpetuation of a stressful, unhealthy or abusive situation.

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