For the addict in denial, the process of realization of truth is very similar to the cycles of grief - 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. Identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there is generally no rule for how long each stage will last; there is no rule for how long the entire process takes. How we deal with the truth will depend on the nature of the loss, how equipped we are to deal with loss, how we have dealt with other losses, and as Melanie Beattie observed “God’s timing”. Everyone is different and the Interventionist needs to be able to all of the addicted loved one to be in whatever stage or cycle he or she is in while motivating him or her to make a change.
"Just accept it!” is usually not an effective or helpful response to denial. Many family members will shout in frustration to accept the fact that the addicted loved one is an addict. But acceptance is not a single act like going for a walk. Accepting a cancer diagnosis or other disease does not come quickly either. For most of us receiving difficult news or dealing with difficult situations, we struggle through a process similar to the grief process. Bad news does not immediately become good news or even neutral news. We have to struggle through what we believe and how we feel before we can “accept’ a loss, bad news, or a difficult situation. Losing our drug of choice is like the death of a spouse, a best friend, or even a part of ourselves.
We all go through this process to accept all losses. This grief process is closely tied to acceptance and recovery from compulsive illnesses such as alcoholism, addiction overeating, and gambling disorders because these illnesses produce so many losses.
Although five (5) distinct stages can be outlined separately, our passage through them may not be so distinct. The stages may overlap; we may experience more than one stage at a time. We may return to previous stages. We may be at different stages of the process for different losses experienced simultaneously. We may go through all of these stages several times in one day.
As Melanie Beattie wrote "[s]ometimes, in cases ongoing loss, we may never reach permanent acceptance. This is true when the loss continues to affect our day-to-day living. Because alcoholism is a life-long, incurable disease, and because it is cunning and baffling, alcoholics may never safely assume they have reached final acceptance of their disease. They are at great risk for reverting to denial - one reason it’s important for alcoholics to treat their illness by attending Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) meetings. Ongoing acceptance may require ongoing attention."
When confronting someone in an addiction intervention, the difference between success and failure it to identify where the addicted loved one is in his or her stages of grief.