The Dangerous Spiral: A Look at How Shame Fuels Addiction

Addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or social status. While it may not be the first thing people consider when discussing contributing factors to addiction, shame is surprisingly a major component in developing substance use disorders (SUDs). Shame is a powerful physiological emotion that can paralyze individuals’ thought patterns, leading them to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. In many cases, shame fuels addiction as much, if not more, than many other contributing factors.

GateHouse Treatment is here to help if a personal battle with shame has led to a substance use disorder. We recognize how this dangerous spiral of emotions can contribute to negative thought patterns, and we wish to help individuals break free from this cycle and reclaim their lives. Let’s take a deeper dive into the impacts of shame and how you can change your mindset to overcome the travails of addiction.

How Does Shame Form?

Shame forms in various ways and is influenced by different factors, including cultural and social norms, upbringing, past experiences, and personal beliefs. Generally, shame can arise from feelings of inadequacy, failure, rejection, disconnection from others, and real or perceived wrongdoings or mistakes. Individuals also internalize shame based on external messages or expectations from their community, peers, family, or friends. What’s important to remember is that shame is a complex and multifaceted emotion that can manifest differently for each person.

In turn, shame induces unconscious beliefs and ideologies that may cause a person to become disconnected from what’s around them. Individuals feel separated from themselves and others, allowing them to believe certain notions that may not be true. Some of these unconscious beliefs include the following:

  • Being a failure
  • Feeling obsolete or unimportant
  • Thinking they’re a bad person
  • Believing they’re unlovable or undeserving of happiness
  • Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority

How Does Shame Impact the Body and Mind?

Shame can have a profound impact on both the body and mind. Physiologically, shame can lead to increased levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the body’s systems over time. This stress response can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal distress, and weakened immune function. It may lead to a lack of motivation and energy, making it difficult for individuals to engage in healthy habits such as exercise and self-care. Chronic shame may also increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems.

Mentally, shame can make an individual develop dangerous thought patterns, leading to negative self-talk and feelings of unworthiness – this can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Shame can also lead to social isolation and disconnection from others, further exacerbating the negative impact on mental health. Additionally, individuals who experience shame may be more likely to neglect their health and engage in risky behaviors like substance use.

Ways That Shame Fuels Addiction

Studies indicate that shame can lead to addiction, fueling these negative thought patterns and contributing to these intense feelings of a lack of self-worth. When an individual’s mental well-being takes a toll, it’s common for them to seek out coping mechanisms, which often only worsen their mental state. Besides substance abuse, some other negative coping skills and addictive behaviors that can stem from intense shame include:

  • Overspending money
  • Engaging in unhealthy relationships
  • Binge-eating
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • Gambling

The severity and type of addictive behavior an individual may face depends largely on the context of their shame and its duration. Someone who experienced turmoil in their childhood and experiences chronic shame may cling to these coping mechanisms more intensely than someone who has felt shame for a week. However, no matter how a person’s shame came to be, it can be excruciatingly difficult to remove oneself from these thoughts once the spiral of negativity begins.

Another way that shame fuels addiction is through its effect on self-esteem. Shame can lead to a negative self-image, causing individuals to feel powerless – this, in turn, can lead to a severe lack of confidence, making it challenging for individuals to make positive changes in their lives. They may feel they cannot overcome their addiction, leading them to give up on themselves and their recovery efforts. This negative self-image can also cause individuals to feel ashamed of seeking help, as they may believe they are weak or flawed in needing assistance. As a result, they may continue to use drugs or engage in addictive behaviors, further fueling their shame and perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

Breaking the Cycle of Shame

Ridding oneself of shame and an associated addiction is a complex and challenging process, but it is possible with the right mindset and support. If you are struggling with intense feelings of shame, consider these strategies to better your mindset now and in the future:

1. Recognize Your Shame – Breaking the cycle of shame begins with understanding and acknowledging the impact of shame on the body and mind and identifying the root causes of shame in your life. Remember to view mistakes as behaviors rather than a reflection of your self-worth, and practice self-acceptance in theory and practice.

2. Find a Safe Environment – Overcoming shame requires a safe environment to express yourself, be vulnerable, and receive empathy or acceptance. Since attempting to make these adjustments in a situation where you don’t feel 100% comfortable is moot, you should take your time before trying to fix everything all at once. Comfort is key when overcoming shame.

3. Rekindle Valuable Connections – Take this time to reconnect with friends, family, and other close companions to create a loving and nourishing network of support. This notion goes a long way in self-acceptance, as you can accept that these people care about you and wish only the best.

4. Utilize Therapy – Therapy and support groups can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms and build self-esteem, enabling you to break free from the negative cycle of shame and addiction. By accepting yourself and your experiences and openly discussing them with a professional, you can move towards a brighter future free from negative thought patterns and unhealthy coping skills.

GateHouse Treatment Can Help You Overcome Shame and Addiction

At GateHouse Treatment, we offer alcohol and drug rehabilitation for long-term recovery from addiction. Our personalized approach to treatment means targeting the sources of your addiction, be it shame or any other area of concern. We offer various treatment options, such as partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and outpatient programs (OP), to ensure that you have the tools you need to live a meaningful life.

Don’t battle your shame alone. Let us support you in your recovery journey. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help you take the first step. For more information regarding our services or to schedule a consultation, contact us at (855) 448 – 3588.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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