The Impact of Shame

Oct 15, 2021

Often when you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you would do things you wouldn’t dream of doing sober. Substances become the center of your whole world, no matter the cost. As you begin your recovery journey, you might uncover feelings of shame for the things you did while in active addiction. Feelings of shame can be overwhelming and lead to powerful emotions.

It is important to recognize the difference between shame and guilt.

Whereas guilt is a feeling of judgment on behavior, shame is a feeling of inadequacy or a judgment about yourself. When you feel guilty, you may apologize, correct a mistake, or make amends with the person you wronged. On the other hand, shame causes someone to take self-destructive actions, think negatively about themselves, and to behave in a self-defeating manner. Shame is a natural emotion that nearly every person may experience at some time. However, for those with a substance use disorder, shame can make you feel isolated from others, feeding into the cycle of addiction.

Are you experiencing shame? Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Am I feeling sensitive?
  • Do I feel rejected?
  • Am I hiding something because I feel embarrassed?
  • Do I question my self-worth?
  • Am I concerned others think I am a “bad” person?
  • Do I believe that I don’t deserve to be happy?

Experiencing shame can have a tremendous effect on your life and could even jeopardize your recovery.

If you have experienced a feeling of shame, you understand the profound impact it can have on both your emotional and physical health. If you are experiencing shame, you also might choose to engage in behaviors that can lead to more feelings of shame, and in turn, could even put your sobriety at risk. While healing from shame is no small task, it is imperative that you first recognize the shame you are feeling so that you can step out of the cycle and begin healing.

Ask for forgiveness.

Stepping into your recovery is a courageous decision, but in doing so, you might unravel past hurts towards your loved ones. Making amends to those you have wronged while in active addiction is a significant part of your recovery. While they might not be in a place to forgive you immediately, bringing light to your mistakes and asking forgiveness will help put your actions behind you.

Forgive yourself. 

We are our own worst critics and can bear the weight of our mistakes on our shoulders. Learning to forgive yourself is a long process; however, recognizing that your past is not what matters, but the choices you make now to support your future can help in moving to self-forgiveness. Dwelling on the mistakes you made is not helpful to you or your recovery.

Let go of what you can’t control. 

The one thing you truly have control over is yourself. Holding onto things outside of our control can draw you back and hinder your recovery. No one is perfect. Redirect your energy to healing and mending relationships with others, as well as yourself. Healing from shame will take time, but being honest and kind to yourself will allow you to move forward.

If you are experiencing shame associated with a substance use and co-occurring disorder, Hannah’s House can help.


Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561.841.1272.

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