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Overcoming Shame and Guilt in Addiction Recovery

May 1, 2019

By Kaitlyn Mercy

Why You’re Experiencing Guilt & Shame

 When you’re struggling with substance abuse and addiction, you will do things you wouldn’t dream of doing sober, just to survive the day. When you’re dependent on a substance, you have to find a way to get that substance, and that dependence doesn’t often leave room for caring about the lengths you went to in order to satisfy your craving. After beginning the journey to recovery, it can be very common to start feeling guilty and ashamed of the things you did while in active addiction. It can be easy to dwell on these dark emotions and to feel overwhelmed by them, but sitting in them for too long is a good way to set yourself up for a relapse.

The Key Differences Between Guilt & Shame

While guilt and shame are very similar emotions, there are many differences between the two, and recognizing them is important. Guilt is when you feel bad about something that you’ve done, or committed to doing and then didn’t. For example, maybe you feel guilty about saying unkind things to someone while you were intoxicated, or making a promise to do something and then not following through.

Shame, however, goes a step further than guilt. While guilt is acknowledging and feeling bad that you did something you shouldn’t have, shame is internalizing guilt and believing that you, yourself are bad because of the bad things you’ve done.

Shame is considered to be a “self-conscious emotion” by many mental health professionals. Being able to differentiate between guilt and shame is important because it can influence your behaviors and reactions. For example, guilt often motivates you to apologize, correct a mistake, or make amends with someone you’ve wronged. Shame, on the other hand, influences actions that are self-destructive and thoughts that are negative and self-deprecating.

Why Shame & Guilt are Dangerous in Addiction Recovery

Dwelling in guilt will almost inevitably lead to feeling shameful. Shame cuts much deeper than guilt does, which is what makes it so dangerous. When you’re caught up in feelings of guilt and shame, you may begin to feel as though you deserve these bad feelings about yourself. Ultimately, you are punishing yourself for the things you did in your addiction, and that doesn’t do you, or the people around you, any good.

Overcoming Guilt & Shame in Addiction Recovery | Sandstone Care

Breaking The Cycle of Guilt & Shame in Addiction Recovery

Breaking the cycle of guilt and shame that is often present in addiction recovery is no small task. Here are a few things you can do to bring yourself out of these feelings.

  • Recognize That Feelings of Guilt & Shame are Counter-Productive.  As you come out of active addiction, It’s easy to be overly critical of yourself as well as the things that you did while you weren’t sober. No one deserves to be plagued by guilt and shame, and dwelling on these emotions is nothing more than self-destructive.
  • Ask For Forgiveness.  Everyone makes mistakes. Choosing to change your life and fight against your addiction is an extremely courageous decision, and part of recovery is making amends and asking those you have wronged for forgiveness. While they may not be in a place to be able to forgive you immediately, you will have done your best to make amends and put your actions behind you.
  • Let Go of What You Cannot Control.  The only person you are truly in control of is yourself. There are so many things that are outside of your control that can’t alter or change, your past being one of them. Holding onto the things you did in active addiction, the guilt of hurting people, or the shame of having an addiction won’t help your recovery, it will only drag you backward. Letting go of the things in your past is a big step towards being free from addiction.
  • Forgive Yourself.  Learning to forgive yourself is a long process. Dwelling on the things that you’ve done in the past is not constructive or beneficial to you. Your past is not what matters, what matters are the choices you make today.

 How Sandstone Care Can Help

Understanding and confronting the shame and guilt you experience in addiction is a critical part of recovery. Dwelling on it and sitting in those toxic emotions only sets you up for a relapse. At Sandstone Care, our team of highly trained and passionate professionals is dedicated to helping teens and young adults to realize their full potential. This means personalizing each individual treatment plan in order to ensure that everything you’re going through is confronted and worked through.

Learn more about our levels of care and our treatment team here! If you are looking for community support, check out our alumni facebook page for updates on sober events and gatherings or reach out to our alumni coordinator Kelly Butzer for more information.

Let’s Take the Next Steps Together

We understand taking the first step is difficult. There is no shame or guilt in asking for help or more information. We are here to support you in any way we can.

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