Dealing with Guilt and Shame in Recovery

Dealing with Guilt and Shame in Recovery

Do People with Substance Abuse Problems Feel Guilt and Shame?

Most people who do bad things during active addiction recognize that what they are doing is wrong. They know that they are causing pain to their loved ones. Sometimes these feelings of guilt and shame are a primary reason why they continue to use. If they resort to stealing or selling their valuables to feed their addiction, they are fully cognizant of those facts, too. However, the urge to do drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol is just too great for some people. They often find it impossible to extract themselves from the downward trajectory of substance abuse.

It is a destructive cycle. Strong urges fuel substance abuse. Users feel guilty because of their inability to stop using, then they use to drown out the guilt and shame. There are millions of people who have tried to stop their substance abuse. They often encounter problems, however, when they try to stop without professional help. Only when the addicted individual becomes sober can they recognize their feelings and truly begin to make amends for their mistakes. Guilt and shame can go away during recovery, it happens by staying sober and improving one’s self, one day at a time.

Dealing with Guilt and Shame in Rehab

Feeling emotions such as guilt and shame should not be viewed negatively. In fact, those feelings are proof enough that people are human and have moral standards. Psychopaths and sociopaths do not have any feelings of remorse.

With that being said, guilt and shame can have devastating effects on our psyches, because they can lead to a host of other problems, such as:

  1. A feeling of insecurity
  2. A feeling of disgrace
  3. A feeling of hopelessness
  4. A feeling of inadequacy
  5. A feeling of being unworthy of love
  6. A feeling of disgust
  7. A feeling of hate

As a defense mechanism, individuals go on the offense and on the defense. They lash out at their loved ones because they feel they do not deserve the love and sympathy that their loved ones give them. This makes things worse. It prevents people from pursuing and developing healthy relationships with others.

Carrying these feelings into alcohol and drug rehab treatment can be destructive. If people do this, they will resist any suggestions, advice, or counsel because of their feelings of unworthiness. In fact, some people have engaged in self-punishment and self-harm because they were feeling so unworthy.

Throughout the rehab process, people often confront feelings of shame and guilt, especially when their minds are no longer clouded by chemical substances. When they become sober, they will realize the damage that they inflicted while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. They will realize the pain they have caused their loved ones.

It is important for people in recovery to be honest about their feelings. They can share these feelings with their therapists or with their peers during group sessions to avoid reverting to negative and self-destructive habits.

How to Cope with Guilt and Remorse

Here are some tips on how to cope with these negative feelings and boost your chance of achieving sobriety:

  1. Know the source of your guilt – Addiction itself might warp your sense of right and wrong. However, you need to scrutinize why you are feeling guilty. Is it the fact that you harmed your family? Is it the fact that you could not stop using drugs? Understanding the source of your guilt can help you break down your feelings and face them one by one.
  2. Shame – You might still feel shame and guilt because you could not resolve your problems on your own. Discuss your mistakes and fears, open up to your therapist or your peers inside the rehab center, and ask for their input. This way, you can unload the huge burden you have been carrying.
  3. Forgive yourself – Remember that yes, you have made mistakes, but who has not made them? Regardless of the consequences of your addiction, you have to forgive yourself at some point. For starters, learn to distinguish the outcomes that are beyond your control and stop feeling guilty for those.
  4. Let go of the past – Letting go is easier said than done, of course. This is not to say that you should forget your past experiences. Instead, acknowledge your past, but stop allowing it to control your present and your future. This is the only way you can move forward and rebuild your life.
  5. Change yourself – The only way to move forward from your sense of shame and guilt is to resolve to mend your ways. This is to show sincerity that you have learned from your mistakes. This is also to honor those who have remained by your side throughout this process.
  6. Apologize to others – Forgiving yourself is just one part of the equation. The next step is to actually apologize to people who you have hurt while you were abusing alcohol or drugs. This is not an easy task because you are exposing yourself to rejection. But, this needs to be done. Remember that your loved ones might take some time to forgive you and that everything has its time and purpose.

Does Guilt and Shame Effect Relapse?

There is a huge correlation between relapses and lingering feelings of guilt or shame. This is why it is important for recovering patients to deal with their emotional baggage before they leave their rehab facilities.

According to some estimates, 40 to 60 percent of people suffer a relapse in the first year after completing their rehab treatment. The prevalence drops after five years of being sober.

Negative feelings contribute to the substance abuse. Even if people have completed rehab programs, if their feelings of guilt or shame remain, it is more likely that they will turn to drugs or alcohol once again to cope with those feelings.

People might distract themselves with work, hobbies, and spending time with their friends and families, but in the end, they will have to face themselves when they are alone with their thoughts. These feelings of guilt and shame can bubble up to the surface unexpectedly just when they thought that they were doing well and feeling fine.

This is because these negative feelings are already embedded even before they become addicted to drugs or alcohol. These feelings can be traced back to their childhoods, past events, or the fact that they have hurt the people they love the most.

Good rehab treatment centers should be able to help patients cope with these negative emotions once they leave the safe confines of the facility. The centers can help clients find therapists or sobriety support meetings.

Rehab Therapy for Guilt and Shame

Fortunately, drug and alcohol treatment centers use a number of therapeutic approaches to address guilt and shame. They include:

Motivational interviewing – With the help of trained therapists, patients are able to see within themselves the needed motivation to change their ways to avoid reverting to old habits. This can be a short process and if all goes well, therapists can modify the individuals’ behavior for the long term. Practicing this technique can help clients cope with challenges, regardless of external pressures, because they can always tap resources within themselves when the temptation to relapse is great.

Contingency management – This is an incentive-based psychotherapy that conditions clients to expect positive outcomes for the efforts they take to improve themselves. For instance, clients might receive rewards if they pass random drug and alcohol tests. Such small successes can help clients feel good about themselves. Ultimately, clients can graduate from this therapy and become more self-motivated to remain sober.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This form of psychotherapy provides clients with tools they can use to cope when confronted with life’s problems. It can help modify the way clients look at the world in order to change patterns of self-destructive behaviors and turn them into something positive. Alcohol and drug rehab often uses this therapeutic approach, and it is also effective for anxiety, depression, or feelings of guilt and shame.

Holistic methods adopted by alcohol and drug rehab facilities can also be effective in combating feelings of guilt and shame. Meditation and yoga, for instance, can help you achieve balance and put you in the present. As you get to know yourself better, such approaches can prevent you from dwelling on your past mistakes and worrying about the future.

Practice Makes Perfect

Ultimately, you will have to put into practice the lessons you have learned. The only way to do this is to expose yourself to certain risks such as rejection and ridicule when you integrate yourself back into real life after rehab. You might struggle in recovery, but that is normal. Do not think of each setback as a failure. Instead, think of the whole process as a journey. The important thing is that feelings of guilt and shame do not have to prevent you from living a full and sober life.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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