Shame: The Psychological Energy That Feeds Addiction

Shame And The Addict’s Brain


Photo courtesy of Rob Chandanais

This presentation is part of a workshop designed to help therapists understand the influence of shame on the disease of addiction. Shame describes an affective state in which amplified negative feelings about the self produce pronounced stress responses that traumatize the brain. 

The limbic system and other brain areas often considered “primitive” are dominant in the shame sufferer, leading to increased dominance of the amygdala and decreased overall serotonin levels. The continuance of these psychological and biological phenomena leads to social isolation and spiritual emptiness that make the victim extremely vulnerable to addiction. 

Treatment considerations include observing the difference between craving management and relapse prevention. The former speaks to the need to tolerate short-term pain while the latter refers to the need to develop healthy behaviors through immersion in a supportive social context over time. Treatment practitioners, clinicians, addicts and victims of intense shame, and their families will benefit from this information.

Many of our students deal with shame not only from their addiction, but also from their poor performance in school while they were active. We immerse them in a supportive social context both within our University Recovery Community and within the 12-step community in our area. In addition, we offer our students clinical time with licensed professionals where they can work through their deeper issues with shame. On the academic front, we provide our students with scheduled time to study and the assistance of academic coaches when needed. 

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