Shame: Barrier to Drug Addiction Treatment

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Drug addiction is difficult to overcome, even in the best of circumstances. The choices an addict must make to fight through both physical and emotional barriers can require unforeseen strength and willpower and must include a goal that is both challenging and achievable. Most people can’t easily take this path to drug addiction treatment and wellness alone, and they require the support of friends, family and care providers. However, breaking through the barrier of asking for help, admitting the addiction problem and allowing oneself to consider opioid detox are some of the most difficult parts of the recovery process.

An Opioid Addiction Crisis

Our society is experiencing an opioid addiction crisis, with many individuals and families battling the reality of this frightening addition. Opiate addicts are not typically heroin junkies on the streets. They can be high-functioning professionals with families, obligations and friends, and in many ways, they can even seem to have an ideal life. This illusion is difficult to maintain for a long period of time, however, as the guilt and shame of addiction can cause addicts to become withdrawn and isolated.

With more than 200,000 new cases of opioid addictions each year in the United States alone, the likelihood of each of us knowing someone who is an addict is likely. Many addicts become dependent on opiates due to injuries or pain, and the impact of addiction is just one more obstacle to add to what is already a difficult situation. It is a trap that many addicts fall into before they are fully aware of what is happening.

A Long History of Addiction

Addition can also be the result of genetics, with some people being naturally predisposed to the rewards of addiction. This is why addiction can happen to anyone, and it can be especially prevalent in families, with several generations affected by the difficulties of addiction. The first documentation of opiate use was 5,000 years ago, and it has a long history of attracting users in a variety of forms and turning them into addicts.

Opioid Use: Shame and Isolation

The embarrassment of admitting an addiction to friends and family can be nearly unbearable for many sufferers. The shame of acknowledging that a drug is controlling their lives is often enough to prevent addicts from telling friends or seeking drug addiction treatment. Wishing to try to control the situation on their own, addicts may attempt dangerous solo withdrawal or may continue to use opioids long-term while carefully hiding the evidence. The danger is real, as on an average day in the United States, 78 people die of an opiate overdose.

The Vulnerability and Difficulties of Shame

Those who struggle to admit addiction issues may have lived a life of success, and admitting failure is a difficult thing to do. Just the thought of telling someone – a friend, counselor family member or doctor – the truth about hiding an addition may bring on the symptoms of fear or even a panic attack. Why is shame one of the most difficult barriers to admitting a problem? It is hard-wired into our brains to never let others know that we are weak, and this makes admitting a problem of weakness and dependency a very difficult thing to do.

Guilt and Motivation: Overpowered by Shame

Guilt also plays a huge role in the overwhelming feelings of shame When addicts feel guilty about their own behavior, they will develop a strong feeling of shame and humiliation. Although guilt can be motivating and make the addict want to improve and change, shame causes feelings of weakness or incompetence that can overcome any sense of motivation. The idea of allowing others to know about the terrible secret, and the possibility of being judged makes the idea of admitting the problem overwhelming.

Secrets and Separation

Hiding a secret brings a feeling of isolation, and addicts may also create separation from friends and family in an effort to preserve their secret and perceived inadequacy. Even a simple conversation with a friend or family member becomes difficult, as the fear of being discovered is constant. As isolation grows, the addict’s ability to seek opioid detox treatment becomes even more daunting due to a lack of emotional support. Disconnection from social ties is known to be problematic for humans, and increasing isolation is just the beginning of a downward spiral of continued addiction.

The Purpose of Shame

Shame is an emotion that does have a purpose; as a function of the conscience, it allows people to adapt to relationships and remember to behave in a responsible and morally acceptable way. It can also serve as a way to self-evaluate one’s behavior while also identifying how others may respond to expressions of shame. Self-awareness and shame are emotions that develop when children are very young, and it continues to develop into a healthy or debilitating emotion based on individual life experiences.

Chronic Shame

Unaddressed chronic shame can lead to a dramatic change in lifestyle. Shame is typically a fleeting emotion, but for an addict, it can become a way of life. As it festers, it can be the cause of many other painful emotions that overwhelm the addict, further crippling the ability to function and live in a meaningful way. A numb, paralyzed reality is the end result, and the addict may begin to spiral into a place of deep despair from which it is difficult to recover.

A Shift in Priorities

Shame can lead to many anxieties and fears, and they will become difficult for the addict to continue to hide from friends, coworkers and family members. The addict may end relationships or sabotage them to prevent his or her shameful secret from being revealed. Apologies and canceling plans can become the new normal, and an addict’s shame will increase by continually letting down friends and family members who were once his or her priorities.

Anger and Frustration

Shame can also present itself as anger. Emotional pain and frustration can cause the addict to lash out at friends and family members in new and unusual ways. Anger can come across in a variety of expressions, including obnoxious comments, judgmental attitudes or mean actions. Bullies are a prime example of the type of anger that is likely caused by emotional pain, shame or frustration. No one likes a bully, and acting like one can create distance and further isolation from social connections.

Conquering Shame in a Safe Environment

Breaking through shame and developing the confidence and motivation to address addiction is a healing process that starts in a vulnerable place. Addicts who are able to break through their shame to confide in others can enjoy support and a safe environment to begin that healing process. When loved ones and friends accept and support an addict, letting go of shame and engaging in positive life changes becomes possible.

The ability to cling to hope and be surrounded by support and love is often the push opiate addicts need to be successful with making healthy life changes. The opportunity to talk about struggles with addiction and willingly accept drug addiction treatment while being comfortable with vulnerability and trust in others are key to a successful recovery.

Going Public, Avoiding Stigmas

Publicly acknowledging the addiction is the next step to leaving shame behind. Honesty and a willingness to speak openly about addiction will help friends and acquaintances be more comfortable with the reality of the support the addict may need. However, there is a strong stigma associated with opiate addiction, and the addict must be strong and socially supported to not fall back into a pattern of shame, especially if he or she retains a fear of being judged by others. During the recovery period, addicts are very vulnerable to feeling shame and retreating back into an isolated lifestyle.

Social Connections and Support: The Antidote to Shame

Whether you are an addict who is experiencing a sense of isolation and helplessness, or you have a friend or family member in the depths of addiction, breaking through shame is a strong first step towards getting help. The support of family members and friends can be a candle in the dark, and these social connections provide a sense of hope in the quest to conquer addiction through opioid detox.