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The Shame of Addiction: Overcoming the Guilt

The Shame of Addiction: Overcoming the Guilt
Written by Seth Fletcher on November 17, 2022
Last update: February 9, 2023
When it comes to drug addiction, there seems to be a lot of shame involved. The idea of being an addict is seen as something that could be fixed or healed with the right amount of willpower. If you are addicted to drugs, you’re somehow broken and must feel horrible about yourself, right? Not exactly! When we think about the root word of “addiction,” none of those negative connotations come to mind. And yet, when most people think about drug addiction and its implications on one’s life, they instantly imagine some sort of misery, self-loathing, and guilt that exists because the person has such a terrible vice. Even those who have overcome their addictions and lead normal lives can carry the scars of feeling like they let themselves—and those around them—down. However, this represents an extremely narrow view on what addiction really is and how it affects a person who suffers from it. If you or someone you love has an addiction, read on for some helpful pointers about how to move past the shame and guilt associated with addiction.
Table of contents
1. Guilt in Addiction Recovery
2. What are the Causes of Shame and Guilt in Addiction?
3. How does Addiction Affect Self-Worth?
4. Dealing With Shame in Addiction Recovery

Guilt in Addiction Recovery

When you are recovering from an addiction, often you feel like you are letting people down—most likely, a loved one or your family. You might feel like you need to apologize to them, as if it was your fault you became addicted in the first place. But you can’t blame yourself for being addicted. Addiction is a medical condition that isn’t your fault. You might also feel guilt because you used drugs in the first place. Some drugs, such as alcohol, may not seem like they’re bad, but they can be addictive.If you’ve been addicted to something, you’ve broken a promise to yourself, friends, and family. You’ve let them down, too. You may feel guilt because of this. You might feel like you have let everyone down because you weren’t strong enough to stop yourself from using drugs or alcohol. These feelings are natural when you are in recovery. You might have to deal with them for the rest of your life. 

What are the Causes of Shame and Guilt in Addiction?

As we discussed above, an addiction is not something that is your fault. But what if you’ve committed an offence in the course of obtaining or using drugs? What if you’ve put someone’s life at risk by sharing needles?There are any number of ways in which addiction can lead people to do things that are morally questionable, and you may feel shame and guilt as a result. This is normal, but it is also something that you can overcomeIn order to better understand why these feelings come about, we need to understand what addiction does to the brain. The pleasure centre in your brain gets flooded with dopamine—a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy, focused, and relaxed. When drugs enter your system, they can easily get into your brain, which can lead to addiction. While you’re on the drug, your dopamine levels are high. This can lead to feelings of euphoria, mania, and giddiness. However, when the drug wears off, your dopamine levels are low. This makes you feel sad, depressed, and anxious. 

How does Addiction Affect Self-Worth?

You might wonder how a substance that can make you feel so great also makes you feel so awful. The answer has to do with how much of the drug you use. When people use a lot, they end up needing more and more of the drug. They need more to get the same effect. This is called tolerance, and it’s a sign of addiction. The more of the drug you use, the more you need to use to feel normal. The more you use, the more your brain changes in response to the presence of the drug.While you are using drugs, your brain is in survival mode. It is focused on getting more of the drug. You feel this as cravings—an overwhelming urge to use. For many people, cravings last for years after they have stopped using drugs. Even if you don’t have cravings, you may feel as though you are not in control of yourself. You may feel like you are addicted, even if you haven’t taken any drugs in a long time. This feeling can make you feel like you aren’t in control of your own life. When you are addicted, you don’t feel like you can do the things that you want to do because you always want to use drugs. 

Dealing With Shame in Addiction Recovery

Shame is complicated to deal with because it stems from a very personal place—one we may not have control over. It can lead to emotional reactivity, which means we often get hurt when someone else hurts us or criticizes us. This can then lead to more shame and spiralling into a vicious cycle of self-loathing and isolation.You may feel ashamed because you’ve broken a promise to yourself, friends, and family because you’ve let them down by using drugs. You may feel like you have let everyone down because you weren’t strong enough to stop yourself from using drugs or alcohol. You may feel like you need to apologize to everyone, even though you have nothing to apologize for. When you keep all of these negative feelings bottled up, they can eat away at you from the inside out. One way to deal with shame is to face it head on. This doesn’t mean you should go around making a big show of how embarrassed and ashamed you are, but it does mean you should be willing to talk about your feelings with others rather than cocooning yourself away from the world.Meditation for addiction recovery is also a good way to stop feeling ashamed and think about something else while improving your mental health.Lastly, there are ways to deal with shame that do not involve confronting others or changing your behaviour at all. For example, if you feel like no one else will understand your struggle, try reaching out to a trusted friend or family member who has been there before. Talking things through can open up new avenues of understanding and compassion that can help improve your overall experience of recovery.You may feel ashamed to tell people that you have an addiction, but remember: you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not alone in this fight, and you deserve to be happy. 

CCFA is Here to Support You

CCFA can help you in your addiction recovery process. Our full range of addiction treatment programs gives our visitors flexible therapy and counselling for drug and alcohol addiction. Start getting better now and contact us for more information: 1-855-939-1009.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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