Trauma and shame are often intertwined with addiction and substance misuse. For many people, it’s an endless, frustrating cycle:
- Shame causes feelings of pain, self-loathing, and isolation.
- Individuals seek to numb these feelings with substances like drugs or alcohol.
- Substance misuse leads to more shame, which fuels continued issues and insecurities.
Shame can be caused by several factors. These include traumatic experiences, personal insecurities, internalized negative beliefs and a lack of love and validation from others. Let’s dig deeper into the root causes of shame and how it can affect a person’s ability to ask for help.
What is shame?
Shame is often used as a synonym for guilt, but these two emotions are very different. Guilt implies a feeling of despair or sadness over something you did. Your moral compass is telling you that you should not have done something. Shame, on the other hand, is an internal emotion where you focus on your whole self, rather than an action. It may not be related to a behavior or event. Instead, your brain is telling you that you are somehow inadequate and unworthy of love and acceptance.
Trauma is sometimes – but not always – a contributor to shame. A child who is abused at home or bullied at school may internalize these messages and believe they are inadequate as a person. An adult who has been mistreated by someone they love or trust may blame themselves instead of holding the other person responsible. These feelings of shame can take over, manifesting as low self-esteem or even self-loathing. Over time, these can lead to isolation or insecurity, both fertile grounds for addiction and substance misuse.
How can shame and trauma lead to addiction?
Shame can permeate the spirit. It has been linked to depression, mental illness and addiction as its victims struggle to cope with their feelings. While some people may be able to enjoy the subtle warmth and calmness that can come with a glass of alcohol, a person who is dealing with shame may grab onto alcohol’s numbing qualities like a life preserver in a turbulent sea. Unfortunately, the waves keep crashing and they find themselves reaching for that life preserver again and again. To continue the analogy, the life preserver or substance is never enough to stop the waves, and the shame of needing that life preserver leads to additional negativity and isolation.
Shame can also stand as a barrier between a person and the help they need. A person struggling with the potentially volatile combination of shame and substance misuse may feel they don’t deserve to be helped. They may build a wall around themselves, afraid to be vulnerable and honest with others. They are afraid others will reject them for the very reasons they reject themselves.
It is a vicious cycle. But help is available. With the correct intervention and therapy, mental healthcare professionals can help people break the pattern.
Healing from shame
When someone is seeking help for substance misuse, they also must address the shame that can derail any progress they make. This is not an overnight strategy – healing from shame takes time and often requires the assistance of a counselor or mental health professional. Working together, they may be able to uncover the root causes of shame, whether it came from a traumatic upbringing or a combination of internal and external factors.
People who are dealing with shame and trauma often have a hard time caring for and about themselves. The compassion and grace that are so easy to disperse to other people may be difficult to apply to their own hearts. A counselor may be able to help.
Addressing substance misuse shame
The shame of substance misuse presents its own challenges. The very shame that is fueling substance misuse can be the force that sabotages successful recovery. Trained mental health professionals can help people develop new practices and skills to address substance misuse while also treating the shame that accompanies it.
Everyone deserves to be happy and loved. Read that again. Everyone deserves compassion, even when they believe they are unworthy or inadequate. The Healthy365 Connection Center is here to help anyone who reaches out, whether it’s online or at our offices at 120 W. McKenzie Road in Greenfield. When you reach out to Healthy365, one of our trained support navigators will listen without judgment and work to connect you with local resources. Our free and confidential services are available to all Hancock County residents.
As we venture into the new year, resolve to take care of yourself. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance misuse or other mental health issues, reach out now. You are not alone.