How shame plays a role in addiction
Addiction surely is a controversial subject to talk about. People often have polarising opinions on it. Many folks, especially the ones belonging to the older generations view it from an extremely negative viewpoint and have many ingrained prejudices about addicts and addiction. They don’t view addicts as victims. For them addicts are culprits and they are victims of their own crime and hence don’t deserve any sympathy or help. However, this is a very problematic way to view addiction and pushes addicts deeper into the hell hole of addiction. Addicts are actually victims. Nobody in their right mind would choose to be an addict because addiction costs someone their closest relationships, their professional life and much more.
Addiction is a terrible condition and more often than not is fuelled by factors of abuse and trauma. Now, we are not justifying addiction here. Neither are we saying addicts shouldn’t take any responsibility for their actions. But the point here is to empathise with addicts and build an environment that encourages them and helps them to come out of their addiction rather than pushing them further into it.
How does shame play a role in addiction?
One of the first things we need to remember while understanding the psyche of addicts is that more often than not they are just struggling to get through the day. They use drugs and alcohol as a means to escape and cope with distressing emotions. One of these emotions that commonly play a role in addiction is shame. These can become stronger as they delve further into substance use as they may start to engage in behaviors they never would take part in sober. In these ways, shame can fuel addiction even more. Understanding the roles they play can help addicts learn to properly cope with them and recover from addiction. In other words, shame and addiction form a vicious circle where each feeds off the other. Substance abuse fuels shame and that shame further encourages addiction. Once this fact is widely understood it will not only help those struggling with addiction to come out of it, but it will also help us to support them better to get out of that hell hole.
Research has shown that shame along with guilt plays an important role in fuelling addiction. Shame, in particular, seems related to increased substance use. And not just substance, shame is also linked to other addictive behaviours like binge eating, sexual risk-taking, and gambling.
People with high levels of shame may take alcohol and other drugs as a way to escape reality, artificially connect with others, and avoid their uncomfortable feelings. These behaviors only create more shame, beginning a harmful cycle of substance use.
Shame and guilt not only fuel addiction, but they can also hinder recovery. Studies show that higher rates of shame and guilt are linked to poor recovery outcomes. These unwanted feelings could shorten periods of abstinence, increase rates of relapse, or even keep people from seeking treatment. Additionally, shame and guilt could trigger co-occurring mental conditions, making substance use treatment more complicated and problematic.
Can shame be linked to other Mental health issues?
Shame is a very powerful emotion and like addiction, it can also get into a vicious cycle of mental health issues. Shame can trigger issues like depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD, personality disorders and so on. And having such mental health issues can further contribute to shame.
How can we help anyone struggling with addiction?
A lot of us may have near and dear ones struggling with addiction. The first step to help them get through this and get out of this is to understand the fact that they are the victims. We understand that it might be difficult for some people to accept that fact because of being strongly anti-drugs, but it is important to understand that in order to fight substance abuse we need to truly help the victims to get out of addiction. Apart from the legal aspect, it is the strong social stigma against addiction that stops many addicts from seeking help. So the first step is to understand that they truly are victims and have the intention of helping them.
Secondly, it is important to be kind to them. We need to take a step back and understand the distress that they are growing through. Nobody likes to be in the clutches of drugs, struggling through every day while being ostracized by everyone. We just saw how shame can fuel addiction and in all probability, they are already filled with shame. Looking down upon them will simply push them towards the edge. The key is to build their confidence and reinstate their belief in them. The self-worth and self-esteem of addicts will mostly be at rock bottom. Hence it is important for us to lift their spirits. We have to convince them that they can get out of it and have a second chance at life. That belief and support can help a lot of victims to start afresh and begin the second innings of their life.