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Understanding Guilt and Shame in Addiction Recovery

Shame and guilt are some of the most powerful emotions in a soul. Both of these emotions are similar, in that they deal with remorse and inadequacies – the same feelings that often compel users to start taking drugs.

Shame can be caused by committing a crime and it could also be caused by being the victim. After years of suppressing these feelings of shame, mental disorders are created, which are overwhelmingly distressful. A common coping method to deal with shame is substance abuse.  Shame is a good justification for an addict. “I’d never be able to quit. I am too weak.” You can see how nicely shame feeds into addiction and vice versa.

Within this muddled battlefield of emotions and deficiencies, addiction is created. Read this article to learn how guilt and shame can potentially create, feed and destroy addiction. Also, this article will teach the reader how to differentiate between guilt and shame. Lastly, this article will explore various methods of treatment used to deal with guilt and shame in addiction recovery.

What is the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?

First of all, what is the difference between guilt and shame? We may use these words interchangeably in a sentence, when in fact, these two words have significant differences and should be used to describe distinct situations. Simply put, guilt typically deals with harming ourselves, while shame implies harming someone else.

Imagine a person who has committed murder goes to trial. During trial, the defendant may acknowledge guilt for the crime committed. While the lawyers declare the evidence and witnesses state their testimony, the defendant’s guilt becomes more pronounced. Eventually, the defendant will be declared ‘guilty’ by a judge. The guilt affects no one but the defendant. It may give closure to the victim’s family, but guilt is entirely about the defendant.

Now, this same defendant is sitting in his cell. With nothing to do but think, the defendant contemplates the pain that their crimes have caused in others. Eventually, the guilt will become shame. The defendant will think about how much grief he caused the victim’s family, and the shame will become more intense.


What are the Roles of Guilt and Shame in Drug Addiction

Shame and guilt are so powerful, because they cause a person to experience distress on account of their own actions or words. When someone wrestles with jealousy or disdain or irritation or loathing, the emotions involve someone or something else. It is natural for a human to castigate blame on this foreign entity. Shame occurs when we blame ourselves – all of those bad feelings are intensified, and magnified in our souls.

Concerning drug addiction, guilt and shame are very important. A person may suffer from some childhood trauma and seek substances to ease the pain of guilt. Eventually, the addiction will begin to hurt their loved ones. As a result, the person may start to feel shame. Generally, guilt causes addiction and addiction causes shame.

Shame in Addiction

According to SAMHSA, shame is more complex than guilt. People may not feel shame, but rather, they will feel the turbulent emotions associated with shame, such as depression and loneliness. It is easy to understand how a person living with such crippling emotions will turn to alcohol or drugs to ease the burden.

Simply put, guilt typically deals with harming ourselves, while shame implies harming someone else.

Where does the Shame Come From?

Such inner turmoil can often be traced back to one’s childhood. A victim of child abuse may nurse feelings of shame their whole lives. While the actual abuser was someone else, the victim may feel shame for not defending themselves or for not ending the abuse properly or quickly enough.

Children often assume that their punishment was as a result of their own actions. The victim of child abuse may begin to blame themselves for the abuse. Their beating was as a result of their mistake.

Embracing this logic for years and decades will form a certain type of mind. By rationalizing child abuse as a just punishment, one’s perception could be warped regarding anything else. As a result, a child that blames themselves for abuse, will grow up and be more accepting when someone abuses them.

How does Shame Create an Addict?

Untreated, people deal with shame in a number of different unhealthy ways. Almost all of these methods generate more shame. For example, if someone was abused as a child, they may transfer such abuse by bullying others. Such a recourse may be a temporary solution, but basically, it is just accruing more pain. Eventually, the bully will acknowledge how much pain they have caused, and the attempted recourse just results in more shame.

Violence, aggression as well as eating disorders are common causes of shame. Depending on how bad the levels of shame are, one may suffer mental problems, such as depression or substance abuse.

Shame Causes Addiction and then Addiction Causes More Shame

Drug addiction is always the ultimate catch-22. People suffering from mental disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia or trauma, will consume drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of the disorder. After a while however, the user discovers that drug addiction makes the mental disorder much worse. So now, the tormented mind must battle their mental disorder plus addiction.

While many victims of trauma may suffer immense shame, which in turn, may drive them to consume drugs or alcohol, many addicts can begin to feel shame over their consumption of drugs or alcohol. In other words, substance abuse creates much more shame, especially in someone struggling with shame issues.

The list of things people do while under the influence of substances that could cause pain or embarrassment is endless. From stealing to pay for your next fix to killing someone in a drunk driving accident to tripping over your feet to lying to a loved one’s face – all these events can cause potential shame, especially in someone dealing with mental disorders.

Individuals Suffering From Addiction Will Hide Their Substance Abuse

Any user will try to keep their addiction hidden. This is common. However, people battling shame will find that hiding an addiction becomes another reason to feel shame. Medical professionals now agree that addiction is a disease. But many still accept the traditional explanation that drug use is a result of moral weakness. Such a perspective would convince a user that their addiction is their fault.

Consuming drugs and alcohol are harmful activities. Society shuns substance abuse. Ever since the user was a child, they had been told ‘not to do drugs’ by authority figures. Everytime that they consume their drugs or alcohol, a voice in the back of their head is telling them that they are bad.

Destroy Shame with Your Guilt

Up until this point, this article has been bad mouthing both guilt and shame. Both words have been portrayed as negative and harmful. In fact, guilt is a good thing. According to some therapists, guilt is a recovering addict’s greatest weapon.

It is good to feel guilt and bad to feel shame. With the right therapy, a person can potentially expel their shame, by understanding their guilt. One feels guilty by acknowledging that they had done something wrong. Treatment teaches us that the more guilt we possess, the less shame we endure.

Think about it. As long as an addict refuses to accept guilt, their addiction will endure. Even if their addiction makes them lose their job, lose their kids or crash their car, as long as they don’t think that they have done anything wrong, and have accepted guilt, they will continue to abuse.

Pick up the Phone and Start Battling Your Shame Today

People may need to seek treatment to abolish the various mental disorders caused by a person’s shame.

Shame isn’t the problem here. People may need to seek treatment to abolish the various mental disorders caused by a person’s shame. Therefore, the desired solution is a team of medical professionals that could accurately diagnose you and prescribe the right therapeutic solution. Depending on the intensity of the person’s disorders, treatment could be nothing more than a few group therapy sessions.

Rehabilitation centers have flourished lately. No matter where you are across the country, you could be certain a rehabilitation center is nearby. Finding one is not the problem, as is finding the right treatment center.

You can start by Googling “treatment for” and then your certain disorder. Chances are though, such a process might take years to complete. In addition, most of the sites you find this way, will not be suited for your needs. Only an experienced rehabilitation center that specializes in your disorder will be able to help.

Makana Path Detox & Intensive Healing Program is sort of a one-stop fits-all rehab center. The facility combines spiritual health with state of the art recovery technology and medicines. The experienced staff at Makana understand how addiction is often a cause of self-defeating behavior. The rigorous forms of therapy offered at Makana seek to enlighten patients so that they can understand the root cause of their addictions. Contact them today.