Defense Mechanism Series – Humor, Compliance, and Minimizing

a sign with here, there, everywhere to reinforce the lack of direction involved in compliance for a person in substance abuse recovery

Defense Mechanisms (Denial Series)

Humor, Compliance, Minimizing

In a series of blog posts, we are highlighting and discussing in detail defense mechanisms of persons with a substance use disorder. To help concerned family members and loved ones understand the forms that “denial” takes, we are looking at the various ways an addicted brain finds to protect the addict’s use of drugs, alcohol, and addicted behaviors.*

Last week, we looked at denial, lying, silence, and withdrawing. This week, we’ll look at 3 seemingly and deceptively mild tactics: humor, compliance, and minimizing. Later weeks will feature more aggressive responses. While this week’s may seem “mild,” they are no less toxic and are not to be dismissed as less harmful. 


Humor may be especially confusing to respond to. In person who is by personality generally witty and charismatic, humor can be a confusing tool because the family member wants to respond with the affection that may exist in part because of this trait. Let’s look at humor in more depth as it relates to addiction and defense mechanisms.

a sign that says all you need is lol to refer to the defense mechanism of humor in substance abuse

Persons with a SUD using humor respond to the content of the concern by taking the information and turning into a joke:

  • Wow! You think I have a problem! That explains the dark circles under your eyes.”
  • “I’m not an alcoholic. Alcoholics go to meetings.”
  • “What? You’d rather I didn’t have a sex drive?”

 Usually said with laughter, these types of statements are confusing. They aren’t classically “funny.” They have an edge. But they are said – on the surface – with a laughing tone and with a smile and the words SEEM to be lighthearted. But they FEEL hurtful and dismissive. They serve the same purpose at the denial featured in another blog post (gaslighting) in which the concerned family member feels invalidated. They are often experienced as gaslighting.


Another defense mechanism that serves a similar purpose – to mute the severity of the accusation of addiction – is compliance. It’s a crafty defense mechanism. Think about it; if the accused person admits (minimally) to a problem, what more can the concerned family member do or say? If they continue the topic, they risk the person with a SUD moving into a more aggressive defense mechanism and therefore losing what seems like progress. Compliance is a small, outward admission while the addict holds onto the power and decisions.

  • “Yea, you’re right.”
  • “I’ll stop.”
  • “It’s too much, I agree.”

a sign with here, there, everywhere to reinforce the lack of direction involved in compliance for a person in substance abuse recovery

The problem with compliance is that it is a pseudo-admission and does not lead the addict towards action; it’s meant only to divert the family sufficiently off course, so the addict can return to using.


On the same continuum of compliance is minimizing. It’s a tiny, small admission – perhaps just enough to make the family member be quiet but lobbies the ball back to the family member with a counter: it’s a yes, but not really. It’s a fake “I hear you” followed by their insistence “but you’re wrong and here is why.”

  • “The other engineers in the Professional Engineers Happy Hour Friday Club drink way more than I do.”
  • “I know guys who use a lot more porn than I do.”
  • “I only use at parties (or at home, or for special occasions…”
  • “I never use at family events, at church events, work…”

Minimizing can take many specific forms – sadly it’s a versatile defense mechanism!

 Minimizing and humor tend to be “soft” mechanisms in that they are not overtly adversarial or hostile. They appear to be responsive – at least in part – to the concern of the family member. As such, it makes it difficult for the family member to communicate their strong concern when the person they are concerned about is being so seemingly reasonable, or even playful, funny, or logical.

It’s a tactic that confuses and frustrates the family member, which is perfect for for the person with the SUD; it protects continued use. The person with an untreated SUD is then more likely to move along their untreated path and the worried family members stay immersed in their concern, worry, and without resolution.

More Information and Help

As with my first post in the series, I want to encourage you (the family member) to seek help and support FOR YOU. It’s the only power you have. I agree and understand that your love one needs and requires help. Sometimes getting a person with a SUD to admit the need for help and accepting that help is a complicated process because addiction is a complicated disease. If you are in Katy, Houston, or Texas and love someone with a substance abuse problem, I am available to give you support.

If you need a professional intervention, please don’t arrange one without help. And you can call my go to guy for an intervention.

Next week, the next post in the series will feature and explain Manipulation, Accusing, Judging, Projecting.


*Person First language is becoming the expected industry standard. And for the right reasons. The main reason is to acknowledge people as people first, before any other words are used, rather than referring to them in terms of a diagnosis or condition. This is true on the medical side of things as well. “A person with diabetes” is being used rather than “a diabetic.” Using Person-First Language in regard to SUD means someone is a “person with a substance use disorder,” rather than the stigmatizing term, “addict.” It relates directly to dignity and respect. Moving away from terms such as addict or alcoholic, we lead with the person, identify the person, and honor the person – first.


24618 Kingsland Blvd 2nd Floor, Room 8
Katy, TX 77494
On the left hand side of the CLS building
(281) 740-7563

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.