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The Close Connection Between Shame and Addiction

Individuals who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction are no strangers to feelings of guilt and shame. The very nature of addiction leads to a range of reprehensible behaviors, from lying, stealing, and pawning family heirlooms to compromising personal morals and values. It is no surprise that those who are new to addiction recovery often have a fair amount of shame to sort through. 

Before entering treatment, you might find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror. The guilt and shame you accumulated during your active addiction might feel overwhelming — too difficult to even begin addressing. Fortunately, with the right tools in place, you can successfully overcome everything that is holding you back from a fulfilling life of recovery. 

At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that addiction is a chronic health condition that can be effectively treated. Behavioral changes are merely a symptom of this condition. The way you behaved while active in addiction is not a reflection of who you are as a person. Not only will we help you rediscover who you are, but we will also help you foster an invaluable and unshakable sense of self-compassion. 

What are Guilt and Shame?

Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably. However, there is a closer link between shame and addiction than guilt and addiction. The two emotional experiences are different. It is an important distinction to make in the context of addiction recovery. 

What is Guilt?

Guilt is a feeling a person experiences when they perceive they did something wrong. Feelings of guilt can be fairly superficial and are generally resolved rather quickly. For example, a person might feel guilty about eating the last slice of pizza at a party or watching an episode of a television show after promising someone they would wait. Over time, feelings of guilt subside. 

What is Shame?

Shame is an overwhelming and persistent feeling that makes a person believe they are bad, wrong, or flawed. Oftentimes, shame is not tied to a specific event or external circumstance. It comes from within, which makes it significantly more difficult to shake. 

The Connection Between Shame and Addiction 

The behaviors people are inclined to carry out while in the throes of active addiction can instigate feelings of shame. People behave in ways that make them feel bad about themselves. Even the act of continuing to drink or use drugs despite repeated attempts to quit can lead to feelings of shame. Furthermore, shame often facilitates and exacerbates addiction. The more shame a person feels, the more likely they are to self-medicate with chemical substances. 

The good news is that shame dissipates the longer a person stays sober and puts the work in on themselves. Like other uncomfortable emotions, shame will fade over time. It fades even more quickly when a person works through a multi-staged treatment process and dives headfirst into intensive therapy. At Enlightened Solutions, we focus on helping our clients work through shame and regain a stable sense of self-esteem. 

Working Through Feelings of Guilt and Shame 

How can a person begin tackling deep-rooted feelings of shame? Is it important to acknowledge that emotional recovery is a process, and uncomfortable feelings will not resolve overnight?  The best way to work through feelings of shame is by working to develop a stable sense of self and an understanding of the Disease Model of Addiction. 

Both self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are crucial to the addiction recovery process. It is important to understand that people who suffer from addictive disorders lose control over their substance use. They feel compelled to go to any length to continue using their substance of choice. Oftentimes, this means behaving in ways that they would never normally behave. 

Tips for Coping with Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery 

There are many effective ways to cope with lingering feelings of guilt and shame in addiction recovery. We recommend the following:

  • Find a licensed therapist who can help identify the causes of the shame and work through uncomfortable feelings in healthy and productive ways. 
  • Become an active member of a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. 
  • Engage in acts of service, like volunteering at a local homeless shelter, picking up a service commitment at a 12-Step meeting, or helping an elderly neighbor carry out household chores. 

We recommend building self-esteem by engaging in esteemable acts. One of the best ways to begin this process is by committing to a recovery program, much like that offered by Enlightened Solutions. 

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today 

If you or someone you love has been struggling with addiction, recovery is possible. Enlightened Solutions is available to help. We have developed an accessible and effective program of care. We work to help our clients restore an imperative sense of self-love and compassion, forgiving themselves for their past mistakes and working towards a brighter future. 

Contact us today if you have been struggling with shame and addiction. An experienced staff member will walk you through our simple admissions process, which begins with a no-obligation assessment to determine which level of care is the most appropriate. We look forward to speaking with you and walking you through the process of early recovery. Contact us today to learn more!

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