People battling addiction often feel shame due to intense feelings of self-hatred and inferiority, and the societal stigma attached to substance abuse.
When shame is not confronted and dealt with in a productive way, it may lead people to continue misusing substances, creating a dangerous cycle of shame and addiction.
There are several ways to release the shame of drug and alcohol abuse and stay on track during the addiction recovery process.
Causes Of Shame In Recovery
It is common for people with substance use disorders (SUDs) to feel a constant, lingering sense of shame. The causes of shame will be different for every person.
Shame may be a result of:
- traumatic experiences such as sexual or physical abuse
- exposure to the negativity associated with mental illness or substance use
- actions that someone may have taken while abusing drugs or alcohol
- having a family member who abused substances
- experiencing poverty and addiction
- being on the receiving end of hostile or harsh parenting
- being in a codependent relationship with someone who enables substance abuse
While it is natural to feel ashamed, if left unacknowledged it could lead to further substance use.
Why Feeling Ashamed Of Addiction Is Dangerous
Dwelling in shame while in addiction recovery is dangerous, as it can cause self-destructive thoughts, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Even if feelings of inadequacy don’t cause a diagnosable mental illness, they can prevent healing by making people want to use drugs or alcohol to mask their negative emotions.
How To Let Go Of The Shame Of Addiction
There are several ways to break the cycle of shame and addiction and begin the process of healing.
People experiencing shame may not know the root cause of their negative emotions, as leading theories on shame say that the tendency to feel shame often develops during infancy or before the age of 2.
However, outside factors such as friends or family members who minimize the seriousness of addiction may contribute to shame.
Recognizing feelings of shame and the limiting beliefs that go along with these feelings can be essential in the recovery process and can be accomplished through addiction therapy.
Forgiving yourself for a habit of harsh self-criticism or for questionable things you’ve done in the past is a long and difficult process.
It may become clear over time that it’s not constructive to dwell on negative emotions or on what you’ve done. The only thing that ultimately matters is your actions today and in the future.
Ask For Forgiveness From Others
One of the most important steps in the recovery process is asking for forgiveness from the people who were wronged because of your actions.
The choice to ask for forgiveness is a courageous one, and while people may not be able to forgive immediately, asking for their forgiveness is one way to put your past behind you.
Taking responsibility for your actions can be a great way to raise your self-esteem, something that people dealing with shame often have to learn how to do.
Recognize What You Cannot Control
People are ultimately only in control of themselves, and the past is unalterable. Lingering on the past, whether something you did or something that was done to you, will only hold you back in recovery.
The Difference Between Guilt And Shame
There are notable differences between guilt and shame that people in recovery are taught to understand.
Guilt can be defined as an emotional state that occurs when a person feels they have failed to live up to morals set by themselves or others.
Shame, on the other hand, can make a person feel that they are a “bad person” for what has happened to them in the past, including actions they’ve taken.
One way to think about the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt implies that a good person did a bad thing, while shame is the unhealthy sensation of being an irredeemable person at the core.
Both of these emotions are normal, but shame is undoubtedly more damaging to the recovery process as it diminishes self-esteem and self-efficacy and can lead to addiction relapse.
What Happens When Shame Is Released In Addiction Recovery
In an addiction treatment program, licensed therapists can help people overcome shame by providing a safe space to express vulnerability and honestly discuss their feelings.
Common therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) will help people change their thinking patterns and behavior.
Behavioral therapy is an effective way to help people address their feelings of shame. It can also uncover and address the role of trauma in addiction.
Over time, people facing addiction can learn to accept their past, build their self-worth, forgive themselves for their transgressions, and realize that they’re worthy of a happy, productive life.
Other Substance Abuse Treatment Options
There are an array of other treatment methods that can address mental health issues and dependency on drugs and alcohol.
Behavioral health services may include:
- medical detox
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid drug addiction
- dual diagnosis treatment for people with co-occurring mental health disorders
- sober living homes
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Reach out to FreeRehabCenters.net today and take the first step toward lasting sobriety.
Published on May 4, 2023
Free Rehab Centers aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Psychology Today