The Link Between Shame and Substance Abuse


Many people with addiction or mental illness experience shame. It involves feelings of inferiority – thoughts such as “I’m a failure”, “I do not deserve happiness” and “I’m unlovable” are just a few inner criticisms one might experience. Shame is dangerous because it can lead us to continue abusing substances in belief that we are worth nothing more. These thoughts can plague us in the subtlest ways, creepily underlying every word, motivation, intention, and action.

A 2013 study titled “The Shame of Addiction” stated that addiction is grounded by 2 beliefs of failure that further perpetuate the addiction cycle: a sense of failure in self-control over the substance, and a sense of failure in living up to the standards of a good life that the person acknowledges and aspires to. If you’re wondering about guilt, there is a key difference: where guilt motivates a person to want to correct the action or restore the error, shame is a global feeling of inadequacy. One of the most devastating impacts of shame is that it separates us from others and is grounded in subconscious beliefs that appear through our actions.

Shame is a dangerous and painful emotion because it deteriorates any sense of self-esteem that a person has. How do you know if you’re experiencing shame? There are a variety of tells:

  • If you’re idealizing others, because you feel low in comparison
  • If you’re talking down to others in an attempt to raise yourself up
  • If you blame others for the way you feel because you already feel so bad about yourself that you can’t handle taking even more responsibility
  • If you blush, have a rapid heartbeat, sweat, freeze, hang your head, slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact with others, withdraw, and/or get dizzy and nauseous

These are just a few signs, but they could be an indication that you are ashamed of yourself. Substance abuse often begins and continues with feelings of shame, but this harmful cycle can be ended through therapy and treatment. Healing shame begins with being in a safe environment where you can express yourself, be vulnerable, and receive acceptance and empathy.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse recovery treatment center. If you’re ready to seek treatment from substance abuse, call us today at 888-743-0490 for a consultation. Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need.