Overcoming Shame and Guilt in Addiction Treatment

6 minutes Written by Jessica Rundle Conell

It is very common for people with substance dependency to feel shameful and guilty. After initiating the journey of addiction treatment, these feelings often make one think about the things they did while in active addiction. This can easily lead to relapse if left misunderstood and unheeded as one dwells on the feeling of guilt and shame.

Difference between Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt are sometimes used interchangeably as they are very similar emotions. However, there are some key differences in how they influence the journey of addiction treatment. It becomes pertinent to recognize them in order to address these feelings accordingly and in a more informed manner. 

Guilt is feeling bad about the things you have done or committed to doing. For an addict, it is commonly translated as the feeling of regret experienced after doing something while intoxicated, that they would never have done in normal circumstances. 

Shame, however, is the internalization of guilt and often results in considering oneself intrinsically bad for doing bad things. Shame is one step further from guilt. While guilt is a mere acknowledgement of a misdeed, shame makes one think of oneself as bad. Guilt-prone people are, hence, more likely to overcome bad patterns of behavior, while shame-prone people, in resorting to defensive aggression, often persist with those bad patterns of behavior. So, it becomes important to realize this difference in addiction treatment because it can influence your behavior and reactions.

Why Overcoming Guilt and Shame is Necessary in Addiction Treatment?

In the case of addiction, dwelling on the guilt of substance dependency and of things done under the influence of substance use can make one shameful. Being caught up in such feelings, you can easily start thinking that you deserve these bad feelings about yourself and that does not do any good to you or the people around you. Therefore, it is essential to break free from the cycle of guilt and shame during addiction treatment.

During addiction recovery, it is an uphill task to come out of guilt and shame from past actions. However, here are a few ways in which you can overcome those feelings and ensure the effectiveness of your addiction treatment:

Understand Your Emotions and Recognize that Guilt and Shame are Counterproductive

It is natural to experience guilt and shame about your addiction and the damage it caused to you and the people around you. However, you need to be aware of the fact that dwelling on these emotions is counterproductive to your treatment. Being plagued by shame and guilt would only result in more agony for you and your loved ones. To overcome that, you need to accept that no one chooses to be an addict and then do things one does in active addiction willingly. Substance dependence or addiction is a disease. And the things which you were forced to do under the influence of that were symptoms of that disease.

Accept Your Past and Yourself as a First Step to Forgive Yourself

If you want to undo the damage that was done in the past, you need to forgive yourself first. Forgiving yourself means accepting your past actions and your past self. No one is born flawless and like other humans, you are not either. However, we can learn from our past mistakes by accepting them as mistakes and then making sincere efforts not to repeat these mistakes. This is only possible if you make peace with your former self because it is not guilt over the past actions that matter, rather your choices and efforts today matter.

Ask for Forgiveness

The decision to overcome addiction and efforts in this regard are marked by your courage to change and make amends by asking for forgiveness from those who felt led down by you. You need to understand they may or may not be in a position to forgive you immediately, but it is certain your persistence and sincere efforts can help you in winning their confidence back and forgive you. You just need to be more honest in your efforts, which is what the people around you want from you. Once they are convinced that you actually want to change, they will forgive you immediately. Thus, asking forgiveness from others is a challenge that takes time, effort, and emotional maturity.

Talk about Your Recovery and Seek Help from Your Family, Friends, or Therapist

To confine your feelings to yourself and to fear the judgment of others often becomes counterproductive and leads you to shame. Talking about the things you are experiencing during your recovery in front of others can help you understand them more. It always helps in taking back control of your life when you have properly understood and processed your feelings. And one way of doing that is to be open and honest about your feelings. However, there also come times when one feels overpowered and cannot deal with feeling alone. It is natural too. Seeking help from your doctor or counselor is a healthy practice. They can identify and treat the underlying causes of a certain feeling, which you are not qualified to identify or treat. 

Form Positive Relationships

You can feel better among those who know how to make you feel secure and who accept you for who you are. Among them, you would not be needing to take betterment as a burden that needs to be taken immediately upon one’s shoulder to become socially acceptable. Thus, establishing healthy relationships and forgoing unhealthy ones are very crucial to your treatment. One example of this is getting a pet which has proven very helpful in overcoming the guilt and shame associated with addiction.

Turn Guilt into Motivation

Some people are of the view that guilt is essential for people to acknowledge a mistake. They believe one can undo those mistakes by accepting them and then taking lessons from these past mistakes in order not to repeat them again. This has proved helpful in dealing with addiction problems. One can turn guilt into motivation to do things in a better way. An example of it is helping others with their addiction problems. This always helps and inspires one in feeling good about themselves and in keeping up the journey of betterment.

How Can a Rehab Help?

Breaking the cycle of shame and guilt is vital to addiction recovery. If you keep dwelling on it without understanding and confronting it, the ultimate result most often is relapse and persistent feelings of shame. Seeking help from a highly qualified and empathetic team of professionals and counselors in an addiction center, understanding and overcoming feelings of guilt and shame will become easier.

These professionals are dedicatedly working to help you realize your full potential to overcome addiction. Moreover, personalized treatments for every individual according to their needs is also important. This ensures that all aspects of your feelings are addressed and confronted in a manner that is most effective. 

Group therapies or support groups provide the opportunity of learning from the experiences of our other clients through a community support program. They also provide a healthy and secure environment by taking care of your concerns for privacy.

Avatar Jessica Rundle Conell

Written by Jessica Rundle Conell

Jessica Rundle Conell is a therapist in Montana and New Jersey who specializes in couples, family, group and individual therapy.