Shame and Addiction

A depressed young man eyes a bottle of whiskey

There is a strong tendency in society to shame behavior that we deem inappropriate, or bad for communities. Indeed, the idea of shame is a big piece of the penal system and why it is the way it is. However, the aspect of shame seems to be very prevalent in the world of addiction, as though the use of shame will help enable addicts to see their mistakes and grow beyond them. Is this a reasonable response, though? And is shame a tool that should continue to be used when dealing with people who struggle with addiction? Here is some information on shame and addiction…

Does shame actually work?

Well, there haven’t been too many studies that have respectably gone into this issue, at least not enough. However, one recent study at the University of British Columbia has shown that the opposite effect was far more prevalent, in terms of using shame to fight addiction. Shockingly, or perhaps not so, there is a strong correlation between addicts who are exposed to shame-inducing behaviors and those who relapse. This means that shame is likely harming the recovery process in a way that increases addicts’ dependency on the substances they have abused.

Adverse effects on personal responsibility

Part of the reason that this phenomenon exists is that the process of shaming someone doesn’t actually inspire them to get better. Instead, it creates an alienation between the addict and those around them. This kind of alienation pushes addicts away from the people who can actually help them. Instead, they will fall back into the coping mechanisms that have proved so problematic in their lives and continue to abuse illicit substances. This takes away the call to action of personal responsibility and doesn’t build empathy between people who are in need of medical help at the moments in their lives when they need it the most.

Neglects the medical implications of addiction

The root of why adding shame into the equation is such a bad thing is that it neglects what we have now come to learn about addiction. It really is a medical issue; a mental disease, as it were. Assigning shame onto addicts who are suffering from this mental disease is like assigning shame onto people who suffer from other mental illnesses. It does nothing to actually address the problem, and instead only works to make the social setting for these addicts more problematic.