Shame and Addiction

Shame and addiction — what a tragically intertwined pair. These two often seem to walk hand in hand, making it difficult for an addict to see their potential and purpose through a fog of lies that say, “You’re not good enough” or “You’ll never be free of this.” Shame also makes it harder for the words and care of a loved one to pierce through the darkness. Here we’ll explore the concepts of shame and addiction — and how you or a loved one can find healing from shame throughout recovery.

How Do Shame and Addiction Interact?

Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably but are in fact not the same. While guilt acknowledges negative feelings over an action taken, shame tells you that as a result of this action, you’re not a good enough person.

Shame can be caused by a wide range of factors — such as trauma or challenging social environments — and often causes feelings of deep inadequacy, lack of worth and the need to hide. It can trigger a dependency on alcohol or drugs as a method of escape. The shame-addiction pairing can find an addict in a precarious cycle, as their addiction may lead to increased shame and a growing need to hide their reality from others and even from themselves.

How Shame Can Keep an Addict From Getting Help

Shame manifests itself in many ways that can make it harder for an addict to seek the help they need. It can:

  • Keep you quiet: It can bury your voice and make you avoid people because you don’t feel you have a space to share your struggles.
  • Destroy your self-worth: You may feel like you’re not deserving of help or worth the trouble it will take to recover.
  • Make you hide the truth: If you’re not proud of your choices and lifestyle, you likely want to cover them up. But how can you work on a problem that you won’t acknowledge exists?
  • Make your dreams feel impossible: You may think that you lack the strength or ability to truly recover. You may feel like your life will never amount to anything more than your addiction.

These struggles are valid, but it’s possible to break through the lies that shame tells you and find healing on the other side.

Healing From Shame

We’re here to tell you that there’s healing that can lead you through and away from shame. It may not be an easy 1-2-3-step solution, but with a little guidance, you can overcome shame in addiction recovery. Start by:

  • Facing the root of your shame: As uncomfortable as it may be to dig through these roots, it’s essential to understand your feelings and how your shame is linked to your addiction.
  • Making amends, then letting go: You may feel shame for certain relationships or how your actions have affected others. Burying these feelings with substance abuse will never lead to wholeness. Acknowledge the broken relationships, apologize and start letting go — whether or not you receive forgiveness on the other end.
  • Being kind to yourself: Speak to yourself like you would a friend. Pay attention and call yourself out for negative patterns of self-talk. Write out your thoughts in a journal so that you can re-read them and see how your own thinking is shaping your self-worth. Write your truths for yourself, and put them where you can see them.
  • Finding a safe space: Whether it’s with a friend, family member or professional counselor, give yourself a place to unpack your shame. Take yourself out of hiding and put your words in the light. You’ll find that once they’re spoken out and reflected upon, you’ll be more able to break down the lies and replace them with truths.

If you’re feeling ashamed and alone, don’t let addiction have the final say. Reach out to Gateway Foundation today to receive help from a place and team you can trust.


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