Shame and addiction


Although the feeling of shame is familiar to everyone it is uncomfortable many people have difficulties in facing their own sense of shame. They will run and hide from it, use unhelpful behavioural defense mechanisms such as blaming, projecting and grandiosity to avoid the shame they are feeling.

Unlike guilt which is a judgement call about your behaviour, shame is an overwhelming feeling of inferiority, being ‘less than’ and inadequate or not ‘good enough.’ You feel exposed and as if other people can see your flaws, often shame induces negative core beliefs. Core beliefs are negative beliefs we have about ourselves which are the root of many unhelpful thoughts, some shame based core beliefs may include:

I’m a bad person

I’m a fraud

I’m unlovable

I don’t deserve good things in life or happiness

How shame is a part of addiction

Shame and addiction usually co-exist, the writer John Bradshaw in his book Healing the Shame That Binds you “I used to drink, to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.” The shame of addiction also affects a person’s self worth and this works in a vicious cycle, they feel ashamed about their addiction, then use their drug of choice to feel relief, this works and reinforces the addictive behaviour and so the cycle continues. It is important to distinguish toxic shame which is what fuels addiction and healthy shame which is usually apart of recovery and healing. Healthy shame if often a part of when an addict reaches ‘rock bottom’ and wants recovery.

In order to heal and start the process of recovery, the addict needs care to help them process their toxic shame. The Twelve Steps programme assists in shame reduction by challenging self centered behaviours inherent in addiction and removing the addict from the idea that they are special and different. This is also a part of the 12 Step concept of service to other addicts that they may also start to recover. 

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