What Roles Do Guilt and Shame Play in Addiction?

Those that are struggling with addiction are often trying to just get through the day. They use drugs and alcohol as a means to escape and cope with distressing emotions. Some of these emotions that commonly play a role in addiction are guilt and shame. These can become stronger as you delve further into substance use as you may start to engage in behaviors you never would take part in sober. In these ways, guilt and shame can fuel your addiction even more. Understanding the roles they play can help you learn to properly cope with them and recover from addiction.

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Even though guilt and shame both play a similar role in addiction and can even seem like similar emotions, they are different. Knowing the differences to identify what you are feeling is the first step in understanding the roles they play in addiction and the effects they can have on you. 

What is Guilt?

Guilt is the feeling you have when you’ve done something terrible or said you would do something and then didn’t. The feeling that comes after these actions is what can be classified as guilt. During addiction, you may feel guilt for saying something rude to someone while you were under the influence or made a wrong decision that impacted your life or the lives of others. Guilt is that feeling of responsibility or remorse you have after you do something wrong.

What is Shame?

Shame is a bit deeper than guilt. While guilt is typically on the surface, shame happens internally and can significantly affect how you view yourself. Guilt is feeling bad for doing something, but shame is about internalizing that guilt and believing that you are a terrible person because of what you did. Shame can lead to negative thoughts or actions that impact you more deeply. 

The Effects of Guilt and Shame

Guilt can be a great motivator to do or say something to correct your past actions. Feeling guilty can cause you to apologize or drive you to make amends with someone that you hurt. This can help you become a better person and avoid making the same mistake in the future. However, shame often harms you. It can cause you to engage in destructive thoughts and behaviors that lead to more wrongdoings. Shame can cause further hurt for yourself and others down the road. Knowing the difference between the two emotions can help you recognize what you are feeling and learn how to solve the situation.

The Impact on Addiction Recovery

Everyone feels guilt from time to time, which can be a healthy emotion; it drives you to do better. However, dwelling on your guilt can lead to feelings of shame, leading to negative behaviors. Shame can be a threatening emotion in your recovery. The more shameful you feel, the more likely you are to partake in negative behaviors. In recovery, this means shame can be triggering and cause a relapse. This can result in a vicious cycle where you feel shameful, so you relapse, and then you feel shameful because you relapsed. This cycle can be challenging to get out of, which is why you need to have coping strategies on hand.

Coping Strategies For Guilt and Shame

Because feelings of guilt and shame can be triggering for those in recovery, it is essential to know specific coping strategies for dealing with them. Not only should you have coping strategies, but you should also know how to break the cycle of guilt and shame if you dive too deep into these feelings.

Identify the Emotions For What They Are

Being able to recognize and identify what you are feeling is a significant part of recovery. When you begin feeling down, ask yourself if you may be feeling either guilt or shame. This way, you can identify the feeling and know that it doesn’t serve your recovery. This is the time to start damage control to pick yourself back up. 

Engage in Coping Strategies

You need to first cope with these feelings so you can pick yourself back up and take proper action. Some coping strategies to consider using include:

  • Journal
  • Reach out to a friend
  • Go to a support group
  • Exercise
  • Eat something nutritious
  • Distract yourself
  • Talk to your therapist or sponsor

Focus on What You Can Control

Once you have picked yourself back up, you can begin taking the necessary steps. First, you should focus on what you can control. This way, you can realize what you are responsible for rather than dwelling on things you have no control over.

Seek Forgiveness

When you realize that you are a human and everyone makes mistakes, you take the pressure off of yourself. What you can do to make up for your mistakes is ask for forgiveness from those you have wronged. After that, you can take steps to forgive yourself. This way, you can ensure you can maintain your recovery and break the cycle of guilt and shame.

Many individuals in recovery may not realize the profound effect of guilt and shame on the healing process. Learning to recognize these emotions can help those struggling learn how they affect themselves and their recovery and how to cope with them. However, it is not enough to simply cope with these feelings. You need to break the cycle of guilt and shame so they cannot control you. Getting too caught up in these feelings can cause a relapse, so it is essential to know what to do. At Northstar Transitions, we understand that recovery can bring up a lot of emotions. You may feel overwhelmed and get caught up in them, but we are here to help you. Healthy coping mechanisms are a cornerstone of recovery that you will learn here at Northstar through our various treatment modalities. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to us at (303) 558-6400.

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