Shame and Addiction

Breaking the Cycle

Shame is a deeply personal and very painful emotion. If you’re struggling with an addiction, you likely have been feeling the shame of addiction for quite some time. Perhaps you’ve been trying to overcome it for years. That’s because shame and addiction go hand in hand. One of the most unfortunate aspects of shame is that it’s one of the primary contributors to your addiction. Most addicts who are feeling shame do everything they can to escape it, even if only temporarily. But this is what actually triggers the shame-addiction cycle: the shame of addiction makes you feel awful, so you self-medicate it with a drug, which gives you temporary relief from the shame; in turn, this reinforces the addictive behavior, but you also feel bad that you “gave in” and the shame quickly returns, driving you to self-medicate once again…it’s like a dog chasing its tail.

With each repetition of this cycle, your self-esteem takes a blow; you may feel out of control, powerless, hopeless, disgusted, angry, or disappointed with yourself. You mentally beat yourself up for not being strong enough to not give in to the urge to use. You feel guilty and worthless. And as your addiction negatively impacts your relationships, your finances, or your work, the shame takes a firmer hold on your psyche. Each time your make a promise to quit and don’t, or each time you tried to stay clean and sober only to relapse, the shame gets reinforced.

So, how do you break the shame-addiction cycle? At 12 Keys Rehab, we’ll be right by your side as you follow these difficult but crucial steps toward a lasting recovery:

Acknowledge the shame: and all the pain that accompanies it, without judging yourself. It’s not easy, because you’re probably so used to judging yourself – and having others judge you as well. But consider this: if you were helping someone you care about, you would most likely be compassionate, understanding and encouraging…don’t you deserve the same?

Accept that your addiction doesn’t define you: you are not your addiction. You are not a loser, or a horrible person, or a substandard human being just because you have an addiction. Everyone you know has both strengths and weaknesses. This one weakness – big as it may seem – is not the sum total of who you are.

Accept your imperfection: because you’re human. Most people are their own worst critics; as an addict, it’s especially hard to not be extremely critical of yourself. You’ve made mistakes in your life, and so has everyone else. For whatever reason, you were vulnerable to becoming an addict. That vulnerability is part of your imperfect humanness.

Realize you’re not alone: it may feel like it, as addictions can lead to a very lonely life. But there are people who genuinely care and will help you – if you’ll let them. At 12 Keys, our counselors have walked the same road as you; they understand the loneliness, and they know firsthand what it feels like to battle an addiction.

Reach Out for Help: take that first step. At 12 Keys, we’re here to guide, encourage and motivate you on the road to recovery – and help keep you clean and sober once you do recover. We know the painful shame of addiction, and understand it can get in the way of getting the help you need. But you must be the one to take the first step and ask for help. You need to be ready – and when you are, 12 Keys is here for you.

Finally, forgive yourself: for every wrong step you took that led you into your addiction and kept you in it. You were doing the very best you could with the knowledge and tools you had at the time.

Now, you have new knowledge and tools. Overcoming the painful shame-addiction cycle is possible, once you take that first step…

The Addiction Blog