Addiction and alcoholism rates in the United States are shocking and encourage a vicious cycle of shame and addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted each year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- 9.4% of the population ages 12 and up (24.6 million people) have used an illicit drug, including marijuana, in the past month
- 22.6% of those 18 to 20 used an illicit drug in the past month
- 6.8% of adults 18 and older (16.3 million people) have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
- 46.2% of men and women report binge drinking in the past month
- 12.8% of Americans report heavy alcohol use in past month
This cycle of shame and addiction is exacerbated by the stigma presently attached to addiction and alcoholism. People believe those with substance abuse still have a choice in the matter. These negative beliefs encourage addicts and alcoholics to feel great shame about the predicament they find themselves in, which often prompts further drug and alcohol use.
When individuals feel judged or looked down upon, their self esteem and self image is negatively impacted. With such high portions of the population experiencing and living with drug and alcohol abuse, though, it would be helpful for people to gain a greater understanding of substance abuse. Once properly armed with facts, they will be less likely to outright judge others for their life struggles, especially with drugs and alcohol.
The cycle of shame and addiction is difficult to manage alone so it is important to locate someone who is qualified and equipped to manage the issues surrounding addiction and alcoholism. What all is at play and how can it be treated? There is clearly a necessity for solutions to this self-inflicted distortion of perspective but how can doctors and therapists help?
The Difference Between Shame and Guilt
Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher and speaker who studies the benefits of vulnerability. In an interview with Oprah, Brown explains her understanding of the difference between shame and guilt: it’s in how you talk to yourself. Brown believes guilt is a natural, acceptable response situations where you tell yourself, “I made a mistake.” When you experience shame, you tell yourself, “I am a mistake.” The power of self-talk is incredible; your brain believes what you allow it to tell itself. Brown explains that feelings and thoughts of shame are highly correlated with the presence of:
- Eating Disorders
When addiction is experienced alongside a mental health disorder like one of those on Brown’s list it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder. Again, there is a cycle of shame and addiction here. When an individual struggles with a stigmatized mental disorder, the likelihood of their being or becoming addicted to drugs increases. The effects of the drugs heighten the feelings of shame and the cycle kicks off again.
On the other hand, feelings of guilt are inversely correlated with the presence of these disorders and issues. By realizing that you are a human being who will make mistakes, not some massive mistake or smudge in the world, you’re able to hurdle negative situations or impacts quicker.
When you repeat negative, shame-induced thoughts you’ll continue to behave shamefully. However, if you address these feelings and behaviors directly, you have a better chance of altering this self talk, believing it and experiencing positive results. Finding help from qualified doctors or therapists will help to find and develop a healthy path towards recovery from both overwhelming shame and harmful addiction. These professionals can teach you the coping skills necessary to switch thinking from shameful to guilty, as well as how to overcome these feelings faster.
What Causes the Cycle of Shame and Addiction?
The cycle of shame and addiction is self-perpetuating, meaning one influences the other in a repetitive manner. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse feel shame for their addictions and use more to cover those feelings, which results in more shame. Addiction and alcoholism are struggles for anyone, but for those who struggle with co-occurring disorders, the feelings are magnified.
Additionally, some of the decisions you make while under the influence of drugs are alcohol are ones you wouldn’t make if you were sober. These decisions contribute to feeling like you’re a bad person rather than just someone who makes mistakes. Especially if you make poor high or drunken decisions on a regular basis, it is hard not to allow them to consume and define you as an individual.
How to Fix the Cycle of Shame and Addiction
The cycle of shame and addiction will not fix itself. You must make a conscious decision to alter your behavior and choose to do something differently. Sometimes the best way to put a stop to the cycle of shame and addiction is with a stay in a drug and alcohol detox or rehab. By separating from drugs and alcohol, you can initiate a change in your life not possible while still using.
You give yourself something to be proud for rather than ashamed of when you make the decision to get sober. It’s easier to alter thought processes while sober and to move from a mentality of shame to brief, consolable guilt.
Drug and alcohol rehab will also teach you the coping skills necessary to stay sober and will likely directly address the cycle of shame and addiction. Once you’re sober, you’ll minimize the amount of poor choices you make, resulting in fewer things to feel shame over.
Remember Dr. Brené Brown’s talk whenever you’re starting to feel as though you’re a mistake or a bad person. She has various other talks on the benefits of vulnerability and how to get in touch with yourself that may be helpful to your process. Adopt practices that will help you to recall the difference between shame and guilt. Use them to your advantage to alter your thinking because it is simply an illusion.
You are not a bad person but you do struggle with a difficult problem, just like anyone else in the world. Just because yours is different doesn’t make you any better or worse of a person. You are not your addiction. You can overcome it.
Let us know in the comments how you overcame your own cycle of shame and addiction!