Shame and Addiction

Shame and Addiction

Over time, as individuals allow their substance abuse disorders to progress, many negative feelings manifest as a result of this abuse. These feelings can range in intensity depending on the user, but rarely do they have any sort of positive effect on the mental wellbeing of these individuals.

Normally, these negative feelings are associated with certain acts individuals engage in or people they may have hurt. If left untreated or adequately processed, these feelings can actually lead to more significant mental health challenges and full-blown disorders.

One of the most prevalent feelings during substance abuse disorder is shame. Shame is normally described as the guilty feelings associated with harming others, especially during the period of substance abuse.

There are heavy links between shame and addiction, and these must be understood to avoid long-term mental damage associated with the relationship between these two.

The Links Between Shame and Addiction

During the process of substance abuse disorder, individuals will often go through periods of brief abstinence before falling into relapse. The constant struggle to experience sobriety and the contrasting feeling of needing or wanting to get high can cause intense psychological issues.

This constant cycle causes shame and addiction to feed off one another, subsequently allowing one to strengthen the other as these cycles occur. Unresolved, unprocessed feelings of trauma, grief and loss combined with these feelings can become incredibly overwhelming.

What is it about addiction that causes users to feel shame on a more intense level?

Why Does Addiction Cause Shame?

Over time, individuals may engage in activities that they normally wouldn’t in order to obtain their substance of choice. This may include stealing from loved ones, robbing items from stores, engaging in prostitution, and other shameful acts that aren’t a part of an individuals’ normal behavioral patterns.

These acts don’t lead to shame specifically, but they do lead to guilt, which is a part of shame. Guilt is associated with how an individual has treated or wronged other people.

Shame stems from the feeling that an individual isn’t good enough or has challenges with their self-worth or value. This actually has multiple causes and sources, with guilt being one of them.

Outside Sources of Shame and Addiction

Additionally, input from outside sources may also trigger shame. Negative sentiments echoed about individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorder will increase feelings of shame.

These events are especially damaging in cases of people that are shamed and mentally abused during childhood. This causes intense damage to a person’s sense of self and how they measure their value.

Another way addiction causes shame is demonstrated by the following example:

After a certain period, individuals become acutely aware of the damage they’re inflicting on themselves by engaging in substance abuse. These people often attempt to recover, only to fail because of the contrasting need or want for their drug of choice.

Shame and Addiction

Recognizing the Cycles of Shame and Addiction

This awareness of the damage being ignored by the physical or mental need for drugs will often cause intense feelings of shame. When people are aware of the fact that they’re blatantly ignoring their own self-care, it causes intense mental pitfalls. This happens regardless of the fact of whether the drug abuse happens as a result of a want or a need.

Often, users continue to abuse drugs because of physical dependence, no matter how bad they don’t want to. This leads to further feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

There are also many instances when prior shame will actually lead to substance abuse. Individuals who suffer from past sexual abuse may feel shame as a result of their abuse, leading to drug use to mask these negative feelings.

Trauma and Shame In Addiction

Past trauma that triggers feelings of shame will often lead to a life of substance abuse. These past traumas may include a variety of different events:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal/mental abuse from a spouse or partner
  • Childhood verbal and physical abuse
  • Trauma from inflicting abuse on someone

These occasions and other extremely negative feelings associated with substance abuse can make shame painful.

When Shame Becomes Painful

After a significant period of existing without treatment or when previous shame is combined with the shame of addiction, these feelings may become extremely painful. This is especially true when individuals lack a healthy outlet or person who allows them to vent.

When shame becomes painful, it’s critical that individuals find ways to treat these feelings effectively.

How Can Shame and Guilt Be Treated Effectively

There are multiple ways of treating shame and guilt effectively. However, most of these ways require the assistance of mental health professionals.

In some cases, group recovery meetings can be effective at decreasing negative feelings attached to addiction. It’s critical to seek treatment for these feelings, especially during recovery, as harboring them will lead to challenges with sobriety.

How Does Shame Affect Addiction Recovery?

Shame can dramatically affect an individual’s efforts for addiction recovery. Someone engaging in active recovery must receive simultaneous treatment for shame and the mental health disorders shame can lead to.

If these feelings are ignored during recovery, the chances of relapse may increase significantly. Normally, participating in dual-diagnosis treatment or some form of behavioral therapy are the most appropriate courses of action to treat intense feelings of shame.

Failing to address these feelings during recovery or at any other point can lead to severe and sometimes deadly risks.

Can Shame and Guilt In Addiction Kill?

Shame and guilt can lead to potentially deadly scenarios for individuals who don’t seek a remedy. One of the most common results of this is suicide. It’s not uncommon for people that continue to harbor negative feelings of shame or guilt to attempt suicide. It’s important to remain mindful of this if you know someone who suffers from substance abuse disorder.

Turning these situations around requires the ability to put shame aside and seek treatment.

Putting Aside Shame and Seeking Treatment

Putting aside shame and seeking treatment takes an intense amount of courage and extreme willpower. It’s not easy to let go of a life you’re accustomed to, regardless of how damaging it has become.

Users end up becoming comfortable with their addictions and remain in a constant state of guilt or shame, relying solely on their drug of choice to eliminate these feelings. However, this elimination is only short-lived, and soon after the effects of the drugs wear off, the cycle of shame and guilt begins to repeat itself.

Putting Aside Shame and Seeking Treatment

Breaking the Shame and Addiction Rollercoaster

Breaking the shame and addiction cycle is possible by taking action on the situation mentioned above. Putting aside your shame and seeking treatment is the only way to heal from these feelings and eventually experience long-term recovery completely.

However, individuals must receive the right type of treatment. Standard rehabilitation services may provide some form of relief, but dual-diagnosis will be the most effective. This allows mental health professionals to treat the underlying causes of addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Treating the Underlying Causes of Addiction

Recently, mental health and addiction have become a continuing theme in recovery and substance abuse treatment programs. Outdated, less effective models are being scrapped for more progressive and efficient forms of treatment like dual-diagnosis and other models that treat co-occurring disorders.

Regardless of the specific order (shame-producing addiction or addiction-producing shame), dual-diagnosis is the most appropriate course of action when it comes to shame, guilt, and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis includes intense mental health counseling services and other activities that allow clients to get to the root causes of their substance abuse.

Without treating the actual underlying causes of addiction, there is a heavy potential for clients to experience relapse. Failure to use these forms of treatment is a classic example of treating the symptom and not the condition.

Through the proper methods of treatment and the proper aftercare services, individuals stand a real chance to experience long-term recovery from shame and addiction.

Long-Term Recovery from Shame and Addiction

In order to experience long-term recovery from shame and addiction, individuals must first engage in the form of treatment mentioned above. After dual diagnosis, it’s critical to have an aftercare plan for continued abstinence and reduce the risk of relapse.

An efficient aftercare plan includes a strong support system, continued peer recovery groups, and especially a continued effort to focus on mental health.

Without the proper aftercare services and mental health awareness, it’s possible to slip into a relapse or experience a repeat of the negative feelings of shame or guilt.

At Circle of Hope Treatment Center, we specialize in providing clients with the services they need to address guilt, shame, and other accompanying mental health challenges associated with substance abuse disorder. Contact one of our admissions specialists today to find out how we can help you or someone you love to overcome these challenges.

1 (818) 392-5259