The Role of Toxic Shame in Addiction

The Role of Toxic Shame in Addiction

Addiction is a painful, difficult and isolating experience. What leads people to addiction and substance misuse can be as diverse as the people who walk this road. Anything from childhood trauma and physical or emotional abuse to mental illness and self esteem issues can lead to a life of battling addiction. Though the catalysts of substance abuse are broad, there is often a unifying trait: toxic shame in addiction. This shame brought on by addiction is categorically toxic, as it only fuels the fires of addiction, making one feel isolated and disconnected from the outside world.

Different From Guilt

Toxic shame in addiction is in and of itself, different from guilt. The feeling of guilt is connected to an action or experience. One may feel guilt for acting unkindly towards someone they care about or being dishonest. The feeling of guilt usually is pointing out a wrong action and is often dissuaded by taking action to right the wrong. A simple apology can alleviate the feeling. However, toxic shame is far deeper and is not usually that simple to fix. Shame attacks your identity and shapes what you believe to be true about yourself. It’s the thought pattern that says “because you messed up, you are bad, shameful, unworthy, or broken.” This is so dangerous for those struggling with addiction because it poses an obstacle to recovery and can worsen addiction.

Signs of Toxic Shame in Addiction

In most instances of addiction, toxic shame plays some sort of role. The shame of childhood trauma can be a catalyst for self medication, shame of choices made while under the influence can act as a barrier to recovery or even shame can manifest as anxiety from traumatic events and add great difficulty to healing. Whatever its origin, it is important to be able to identify its characteristics and triggers, so that the work to bring full healing can happen. If you or someone in your life is struggling with addiction, be on the outlook for some of these key characteristics and patterns. 

Those who are dealing with toxic shame in addiction may often believe they are alone, a failure and worthy of love because of the choices they’ve made or experiences they’ve gone through. Leading them to become further isolated from their community and a support system that is vital to recovery. Toxic shame feeds addiction. Those in patterns of toxic shame may feel alienated and believe their worst days define them as a person. These beliefs are detrimental to recovery,  as it often skews reality and one sees themselves as incapable or undeserving of healing.

Shame & Addiction

Dysfunction in the home and traumatic events are understandably difficult to process, especially when experienced at a young age. Tragically the use of drugs and alcohol are often a quick bandage used to cope with overwhelming emotions, such as toxic shame, brought on by these difficult circumstances. The shame of struggling with addiction leads to further coping and self medication, creating a cycle of trauma, shame and addiction that is nearly impossible to break on your own.  

Toxic shame not only fuels addiction from past traumas, but it also paints an alternate version of reality where you are at fault for everything wrong and plunges you deeper into a spiral of shame. This false perception can cause low self esteem, self hatred, anxiety and depression. Leading people into isolation, away from those who can help them break these cycles of shame and addiction.

Constant shame, unable to be drowned out by substances can lead to worsening mental health and cause heightened anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Attempting to manage these mental health issues coupled with addiction and the ever present shame can often manifest in toxic codependent behaviors. 

This type of codependency can be very dangerous to those seeking to overcome addiction, as it can limit your ability to freely express your thoughts and desires and can negatively impact relationships that may be vital to recovery. Toxic codependency with those who don’t want to see you succeed in recovery can keep you in an addiction and shame spiral, cutting you off from those who want too help and prohibiting you from seeing the reality of your situation. 

Dealing with Toxic Shame in Addiction

In order to overcome toxic shame it must be confronted and addressed as part of addiction treatment. Attempting treatment without digging into the roots of shame does not allow for full healing. It’s vital for a sustainable recovery to discover the roots of negative self esteem and learn how to see one’s self in a positive and loving way.

Thankfully there are many effective strategies for healing the roots and behaviors of toxic shame in addiction treatment. Working to develop and cultivate healthy relationships and creating bonds with understanding and safe people is an excellent way to uproot toxic shame and invite in healthier habits and boost self esteem. Pursuing creative outlets, such as painting, cooking or journaling, also is effective in healing shame and often used in addiction treatment. Perhaps the most powerful tool in dealing with toxic shame in addiction is through therapy. 

There are many different methods of therapy and it is extremely helpful to talk about origins of shame, what uniquely triggers toxic shame and behaviors and identifying cycles. Individual therapy is a one on one, more personal approach that can allow for a deeper dive into your unique past and traumas. Whereas group therapy, which can be equally helpful, making way for many different perspectives and can be a platform for creating relationships with those that intimately understand your circumstances, allowing for both motivation and accountability. Some treatment centers even offer holistic therapy as a part of addiction treatment. This experience helps foster healthier habits of engaging with the present and inner healing. 

Addiction Treatment in Colorado

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, reach out to us right now. We understand the challenges that come with battling a substance use disorder and can offer help. Do not wait any longer to get the help that you or your loved one desperately needs. You do not need to remain trapped in toxic shame in addiction.