Justification of Addiction – The Second Stage of Change

Justification of addiction footprints in sand


This is the second article in our series on the defenses of addictive disease. There has been an unintended distance between our first article and this one, so please go back and review the article Denial of Addiction – the First Step of Acceptance to refresh your thoughts. This will put your head in the right space to read about “justification”.


Justification: (noun) the action of showing something to be right or reasonable.


Justification of Addiction

Justifying addiction is another one of those “crazy makers” I mentioned in the article “Denial of Addiction“. And justification provokes anger and hurt feelings in the receiver. The receiver of justification feels unheard and defensive, and, more often than not, builds resentment towards the sender of the justifying remarks. They feel blamed for something they did not do or intend to do.


In Active Addiction

The unpleasant emotional reactions I just mentioned contribute to personalizing a loved one’s behavior. What can make matters worse, as the disease progresses, are more frequent and creative expressions of justifying remarks. As a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) progresses in their illness, they become even more elaborate in their self-rationalization. And when they combine their denial with justification, it is very likely that person is entering the second stage of the addictive process.


They are beginning to feel the loss of control when they use. As this loss of control and related unpredictability occurs, the person with an SUD feels threatened about their use. They begin to acknowledge, somewhere very deep down, I think I could have trouble with this stuff.


Addiction’s only purpose is to feed itself …

But almost as soon as the awareness is experienced, the compulsion to use takes control. In the case of addiction, the stronger and more frequent the use of the defenses, the more vulnerable and conflicted the person is feeling. And with vulnerability comes secrecy.


In her book, Addict in the House, Robin Barnett, Ed D, LCSW, makes this statement, “Addiction’s only purpose is to feed itself.” A progressing addiction serves and grows that addiction. When someone with an addictive disorder is demonstrating their vulnerability with justification and denial, they could be influenced to think about attempting treatment, if handled with care.


justification of addiction woman walking in sand


Justification of Addiction in Early Recovery

The early weeks and months of recovery are exceptionally awkward and stressful. This is because the person attempting to recover is facing the various consequences of their disease in social, emotional, economic, financial and often legal areas of their lives. Everyone is attempting to re-connect on a more accountable level. And everyone involved is practicing newly learned behaviors.


Someone recovering from a SUD is just experiencing real depth of feeling for the first time in years and can easily become overwhelmed. All these factors make for challenges to newly learned coping skills. Every now and then, everyone in the re-connection process will be invited back to their former patterns of behavior. It is to be expected, because change is a long, slow process. The more effectively family and friends handle their responses to those old behaviors of addictive lifestyle, the more likely your loved one is to “do the right thing”.


Returning to the use of former patterns of behavior as a regular response to the stress of early recovery can be a sign that a relapse may be building. Following the steps of the list below can help family and friends deal more effectively with justification, in active use and early recovery.


How do family and friends deal effectively with justification of addiction?

1. Keep your instructions for dealing with denial handy. And justification of addiction.

2. Remember to speak up. Use “I” statements, speak in regular tone of voice without anger or judgement. Say,
“I think what you just said sounds like your trying to justify your behavior. Is that what you mean to do?”

3. Try to remember that justification is part of the disease. And the brain is telling your loved one to defend the
addictive process at all costs! Try very hard not to take these comments personally.

4. Now, take a look at your own behavior and communication patterns. Are you avoiding statements that
reflect blame? And are you verbalizing statements that reflect responsibility for your own actions and
beliefs? Again, use “I” statements and share your honest thoughts and feelings.

5. Also, respond consistently to justification statements whenever you hear them. Try something like this, “I know I’m not always pleasant to deal with; however, I’m not responsible for your choices.” That’s a good one when you are feeling blamed for your loved one’s behavior.

6. Make sure you develop a support system that will allow you to blow off steam, which should assist you
to become more responsible for your thoughts and feelings.


At Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers we approach addiction as a family disease. We offer education and support groups for family and friends of our clients. Family and friends can be a positive influence on their loved ones to seek treatment and recovery!



Caroline (Carli) Parmelee-Noffsinger has 20 years clinical experience including: primary therapist and case manager for residential, IOP and outpatient therapy. Carli’s primary role at Sanford House is facilitating the Family Program. She is currently updating and revising the program design and content and hopes to improve upon an already successful approach to family intervention. In her free time, Carli spends time with her horse. She has been a horse lover and owner for most of her life and has facilitated equine therapy sessions. She says, “The back of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” You can reach Carli with questions about The Sanford House Family Program at cnoffsinger@sanfordhouse.com