When someone has substance use disorder (SUD), it is common for them to experience distressing feelings, such as guilt or shame. They may often blame themselves or others for their addiction, shaming themselves for their problems with substance abuse. While shame can motivate individuals to seek sobriety, leaving shame unresolved can impede the healing process. Learning how to let go of shame is vital for effective addiction recovery.
Shame and Addiction
When someone is deep in their addiction, they will do many things to find more substances. Substances alter the brain chemistry, affecting important brain areas such as the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are important to everyday functioning.
Within the basal ganglia, a person feels rewards and motivation. When this area is overstimulated from intoxicants, sensitivity is reduced, and a person’s ability to feel pleasure diminishes. Further, the extended amygdala manages stress. When this brain area is overloaded with intoxicants, it becomes more sensitive as well and is not able to manage stress as effectively. Lastly, the prefrontal cortex is important for decision-making and impulse control. With reduced impulse control and increased emotional stress, a person will compulsively seek more substances.
Shame is often felt when an individual feels wrong about themselves or their actions. Many individuals may feel shame as a result of dysregulated brain areas from substance abuse. On the other hand, unresolved feelings of shame can increase substance use and abuse. In this case, alcohol and drug use to medicate feelings of shame can become a never-ended cycle.
Stigma of Addiction
It is often thought that individuals with SUD choose substance abuse. Usually, the first time someone uses drugs or drinks substances, that is a choice on their part to participate. However, addiction can develop quickly from repeated alcohol and drug use. The brain changes caused by substance use can motivate them to seek out substance use compulsively.
Unfortunately, despite addiction being a brain disease, the stigma that addiction is a choice still remains. This is why guilt and shame in addiction recovery are especially hard to overcome.
Addiction Is a Brain Disease
Something that people have to remember is that addiction is a disease. It is a chronic disorder that affects one in seven Americans. Just like diabetes, substance use disorders (SUDs) are something that a person has to manage throughout their life. Diabetes is not the simple act of resisting too much sugar, just as addiction is not only resisting the usage of substances. There are physical and mental effects from either disease, and both have to be managed daily.
Just like other diseases, SUDs require checkups, monitoring, and accountability. The only difference between SUDs and other diseases is that stigma still heavily affects individuals with addiction, which can impact their willingness to seek help.
Dealing With Shame in Addiction Recovery
SUDs affect both the mind and body. However, just as with any other mental health disorder, SUDs are manageable. With accountability and structure, a person can maintain long-term sobriety.
However, if a person cannot understand and release their feelings of shame, then they cannot heal and recover from their SUD. Treating shame is a big step in recovery. Here are four tips to help work through shame:
#1. Talk Through Feelings of Shame
The first and most beneficial thing a person can do when feeling shame is to talk through the feeling. All people experience cognitive distortions or irrational patterns of thought from time to time. However, with a disorder, cognitive distortions can get more intense and frequent. Shame can be a distorted feeling about a situation. The feeling can be also disproportionate to the situation.
By talking through feelings and thoughts, a person can speak their thoughts out loud and hear themselves. Hearing thoughts out loud can help a person identify cognitive distortions or get help from others to identify such distortions.
#2. Take Responsibility for Mistakes
By taking responsibility for any mistakes or actions made when actively using substances, a person can hold themselves accountable. Shame continues to build when a person hides from the truth about themselves, their thoughts, or their behavior. However, when a person can acknowledge their responsibility for their actions and their addiction, they acknowledge shame. Simply acknowledging shame can help lessen its severity.
#3. Make Amends for Harms
The third step a person can take to let go of shame in recovery is to make amends for any harm they have done. Approaching those someone has harmed and being able to talk about the situation can help a person heal. Just as talking through thoughts with a trusted friend or therapist can help someone process shame, so can talking to the person someone with an addiction may have harmed.
Once a person can take responsibility for their actions and addiction, they can begin to release the shame built up from it.
#4. Know Relapse Is Not Failure
Another reason a person with a SUD may feel shame and guilt in addiction recovery is because of relapses. Relapse is common in addiction recovery. As mentioned above, the chemistry of the brain and body are affected, so a person craves substances more and has less control over their impulses to use. This means that relapse is often a part of the recovery process.
To release potential shame, a person needs to recognize that a relapse is not a failure. Recovery is a long process that does not end with treatment. It is for a person’s lifetime. People with all different diseases have relapses and do not feel shame or carry guilt with them. They fix their misstep and continue with their lives. Those with SUD need to remember that relapses are a misstep and can be corrected. Recovery is always possible.
Are you so plagued by shame that you cannot see any other option but abusing substances? Have people said the wrong thing and built your shame even more? At Lighthouse Recovery Texas, we know that you did not cause your substance use disorder but that it developed in you. With experienced mental health professionals, we work with you to identify the causes of shame and your substance abuse. With different levels of care, skills-building courses, and different therapies, we have a program that fits your needs. Do not let shame and guilt control you and your decisions. Choose recovery today by calling us at (214) 396-0259. We can start your journey to sobriety together.