The Effects of Shaming Someone in Addiction Recovery

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

Published: Monday, October 16th at 4:30 PM

The recovery journey is a deeply personal and often challenging endeavor, whether from addiction, mental health struggles, or past misdeeds.

The world at large is often unforgivable to those who have struggled with addiction. The last thing a person in recovery needs is a family or close friend shaming them for their past. A supportive environment is paramount to ensure progress and healing. 

Here’s how to understand and be more supportive to someone in recovery. 

The Vulnerability of Individuals in Recovery

Individuals embarking on recovery often grapple with a heightened emotional fragility, especially during the initial stages.

The challenges they face aren’t just about abstaining from a particular substance or behavior but also about confronting the deep-seated emotional and psychological wounds that may have contributed to their previous struggles.

Addiction often casts a long shadow on an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth, reinforcing feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Each relapse, moment of weakness, or external judgment can erode the already fragile self-worth of the individual, making them feel trapped in a cycle of despair.

Given this delicate emotional landscape, it’s paramount that individuals in recovery are nurtured within a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

External shame or judgment can quickly derail the recovery process, amplifying feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

Instead, a foundation of understanding, patience, and empathy is crucial.

Such an environment facilitates healing old wounds and fosters resilience, empowering individuals to rebuild their lives with confidence and hope.

Examples of Shaming Someone in Addiction Recovery

Overt Shaming

Overt Shaming Examples
“You’re only sober because you have to be.”
“I can’t believe you let yourself become an addict in the first place.”
“You must have weak willpower to have gotten addicted.”
“It’s just a phase; I bet you’ll go back to using.”


Questioning their Progress

Questioning Their Progress
“Are you actually staying clean, or are you just saying that?”
“How many times is this now that you’ve tried to quit?”
“Do you think you’ll ever be normal again?”


Comparative Shaming

Comparative Shaming
“Why can’t you be more like [someone who doesn’t have an addiction]?”
“I drink and I’m fine. Why can’t you handle it?”
“So many people go through stress; they don’t turn to drugs.”


Assuming They’re Always in the Wrong

Assuming They’re Always in the Wrong
“Did you relapse? You seem off today.”
“You’re late. Were you using again?”


Attributing Everything to the Past

Attributing Everything to the Past
“You’re just being sensitive because you’re an addict.”
“You wouldn’t understand because you used to do drugs.”


Doubting Their Change

Doubting Their Change
“Once an addict, always an addict.”
“I bet deep down, you’re still that same person.”
“You’ve changed, but I’ll always remember who you were.”


Undermining Their Recovery Efforts

Undermining Their Recovery Efforts
“After all the damage you’ve done, do you really think being sober for a few months makes a difference?”
“You’ve hurt us in the past; how do we know you’re sincere now?”
“You were never there for me”


Using Their Past Against Them

Using Their Past Against Them
“With your track record, why should we trust you?”
“You have no right to give advice after everything you’ve done.”

The Effects of Shaming in Recovery

Psychological Consequences

When individuals are subjected to shaming, the repercussions on their psyche are both immediate and lasting.

At the forefront is an intensification of feelings of guilt and shame.

The external judgment amplifies internal self-doubt, leading individuals to internalize further the belief that they are inherently flawed or undeserving of redemption.

This continuous cycle of negative self-perception and external judgment creates an emotional quagmire that can be challenging to navigate.

Additionally, this heightened emotional turmoil directly correlates with a higher risk of relapse.

As individuals grapple with the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, the temptation to revert to old habits or substances as a means of escape grows stronger.

Instead of serving as a deterrent, shaming pushes individuals precariously closer to the edge, making the recovery journey even more perilous.

Social Consequences

Beyond the psychological toll, shaming has pronounced social repercussions that can further impede an individual’s recovery journey.

A common response to feeling judged or shamed is isolation.

To shield themselves from further emotional harm, many individuals might withdraw from support networks, including therapy groups, counselors, or even well-meaning peers.

This retreat can sever vital lifelines, making the journey toward healing even more challenging.

Shaming can also hurt relationships with family and friends, causing strain and potentially damaging those connections.

As individuals grapple with feelings of inadequacy, they might perceive loved ones as part of the chorus of judgment, even if this isn’t the intention.

Such misunderstandings can lead to fractured relationships, depriving individuals of the essential emotional support they need during recovery.

Impact on Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy

Shaming corrosively affects an individual’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy.1

When consistently bombarded by external judgments and shaming, the internal narrative becomes one of inadequacy and self-doubt.

This hinders personal growth and progress and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where individuals believe they are destined to fail or falter.

Moreover, the constant erosion of self-worth diminishes the belief in one’s intrinsic ability to change and overcome challenges.

When individuals question their capacity to evolve or heal, it becomes a formidable barrier in their recovery journey.

This lack of self-efficacy, fueled by external shaming, can trap individuals in a cycle of stagnation, making it increasingly difficult to envision or work towards a brighter, healthier future.

Why People Shame Others in Recovery

Shaming someone, particularly in recovery, is often a multifaceted issue rooted in societal norms and personal biases.

Here’s an exploration of the reasons:

Misunderstanding of Addiction and Recovery

Many people lack a comprehensive understanding of addiction — a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Some mistakenly view it solely as a moral failing or a result of weak willpower.

This simplistic view fails to recognize addiction as a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension.

Similarly, the recovery process, which is intricate and unique to each individual, is often misinterpreted.

People might consider it merely “quitting” rather than understanding the profound psychological and physical challenges.

Stigma and Societal Misconceptions

Societal perceptions play a significant role in shaping attitudes towards individuals in recovery.

Historically, addiction has been shrouded in stigma, with those affected often labeled as “junkies,” “losers,” or “failures.”

These derogatory labels, rooted in ignorance, perpetuate negative stereotypes and make it challenging for individuals in recovery to reintegrate into society.

This stigma can be so pervasive that it affects policy-making, treatment accessibility, and public discourse about addiction.

Projection of Personal Insecurities

At a more personal level, shaming can be an external manifestation of an individual’s insecurities or unresolved issues.

Someone might shame another to feel superior or divert attention from their struggles.

Individuals can momentarily distract themselves from their insecurities by highlighting and criticizing someone else’s perceived flaws.

Belittling someone in recovery may be an attempt to conceal one’s own apprehensions or denials about their addictive behaviors or those of close family members.

Shaming someone in recovery is often less about the person in recovery and more about societal judgments and the shamer’s personal struggles.

Recognizing these underlying causes can be the first step toward fostering empathy and understanding.

The Importance of Empathy and Compassion

Empathy and compassion are vital components of meaningful human connections.

Empathy allows us to understand others’ feelings, while compassion drives us to act kindly towards those in distress.

Together, they combat judgment and indifference, promoting healing and mutual respect in our interactions.

The Role of Empathy in Fostering Recovery

Empathy is pivotal in the recovery process, bridging individuals and those supporting them.

By truly understanding and feeling the struggles, fears, and aspirations of someone on the path to healing, supporters can offer more genuine and effective assistance.

This understanding creates an environment of trust and safety where individuals feel seen, heard, and valued.

It counters the feelings of isolation and shame often experienced during recovery, replacing them with hope and connection.

Moreover, empathetic interactions can be therapeutic in themselves, as they validate the experiences of the individual and reinforce the belief that recovery is not just possible but achievable.2

Empathy illuminates the path to recovery and strengthens the resolve to walk it.

Ways to Express Support Without Shaming

Constructively supporting someone, especially in delicate situations like recovery, demands patience, understanding, and genuine care.

Firstly, active listening is paramount.

It involves fully concentrating, understanding, and responding to what the other person is saying without letting our biases or judgments cloud our perception.

It sends a clear message: “I am here for you, and I value what you share.”

Secondly, encouraging open communication paves the way for trust.

We foster deeper connections and mutual respect by creating a safe space where individuals feel comfortable sharing their feelings, fears, and hopes without the fear of being judged or dismissed.

Lastly, offering help without judgment is crucial.

This means assisting not with a mindset of fixing or changing the person but with a genuine intent to support their journey.

True support is about recognizing their intrinsic worth, empowering individuals to discover and pursue their unique path to healing, and walking alongside them without imposing our expectations or biases.

Ways to Express Support Without Shaming
1. Active listening
2. Open communication
3. Offering help without judgment
4. Creating a safe and inclusive environment
5. Validating their feelings and experiences

The Benefits of Building a Community of Understanding

Cultivating a community rooted in understanding and acceptance offers many benefits for individuals and the collective.

Such a community acts as a safe haven where members feel seen, valued, and supported, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual respect.

In environments where understanding is paramount, individuals are more likely to open up, share their experiences, and seek support without fear of judgment.

This transparency leads to deeper connections and stronger bonds between members.

A community of understanding becomes a reservoir of collective wisdom, where shared experiences and knowledge become invaluable resources for guidance and growth so that recovering individuals can find purpose in recovery.

As members uplift one another, there’s a ripple effect: the positivity and strength radiate outwards, influencing even those on the periphery.

Communities built on understanding nurture the individual spirits within and serve as beacons of hope, resilience, and unity in a broader societal context.

Counteracting the Effects of Shaming

Strategies for Those in Recovery

The journey of recovery, while challenging, can be navigated more smoothly with the right strategies in place.

Seeking professional counseling or therapy is invaluable.

Therapists offer a safe space for individuals to process their experiences, address underlying issues, and develop coping mechanisms tailored to their needs.

In addition to this, engaging in supportive communities or support groups creates a sense of belonging.

In these circles, shared experiences and mutual understanding foster a nurturing environment, making individuals feel less isolated.

Lastly, the practice of self-compassion and positive self-affirmation is essential.

Individuals reinforce their resilience and self-belief by regularly reminding themselves of their worth, acknowledging their progress, and being gentle in moments of setback.

These affirmations act as inner anchors, helping individuals stay grounded and focused on their path to healing, irrespective of external challenges.

Professional guidance, community support, and personal self-care can significantly bolster the recovery journey.

Healthy Tips For Those in Recovery:
1. Seeking professional counseling or therapy.
2. Engaging in supportive communities or support groups.
3. Practicing self-compassion and positive self-affirmations.
4. Journaling or expressive writing to process emotions.
5. Setting boundaries with negative influences.
6. Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.
7. Focusing on physical health, like regular exercise and a balanced diet.
8. Seeking uplifting and motivational literature or media.

Recommendations for Family, Friends, and Society

As individuals navigate the path of recovery, the environment and responses they encounter play a critical role in their healing process.

Understanding is the first step for family, friends, and broader society.

This involves education about the complexities and challenges of recovery, dispelling myths, and addressing misconceptions.

A well-informed support system is more likely to provide constructive help.

Empathy training and active listening skills are invaluable.

Supporters create a safe and trusting environment by truly hearing and feeling the experiences of those in recovery without judgment.

Last but not least, recognizing and celebrating progress is crucial.

Every step in recovery, no matter how seemingly small, is a testament to the individual’s courage, determination, and resilience.

By acknowledging and celebrating these milestones, society reinforces the individual’s self-belief and creates a positive, reinforcing environment that encourages continued growth and healing.

An informed, empathetic, and positive approach can make all the difference in supporting those on the journey to recovery.

Tips for Family, Friends, and the Community
1. Education about the nature and challenges of recovery.
2. Empathy training and active listening skills.
3. Celebrating progress and milestones, no matter how small.
4. Participating in support or therapy sessions alongside the recovering individual (when appropriate).
5. Avoid judgmental language and negative labels.
6. Fostering an environment of openness and non-judgment.
7. Encouraging and participating in community events or programs that promote understanding of addiction and recovery.
8. Staying informed about the latest research and findings on addiction and recovery.

Raising Awareness and Reducing Stigma

Addressing the stigma associated with addiction and recovery is crucial in creating an inclusive and understanding society.3

Central to this mission is the act of educating others.

We can dispel myths and misconceptions by sharing factual information about addiction—as a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors—and detailing the multifaceted nature of recovery.

Personal testimonies, documentaries, and educational campaigns can humanize the journey, emphasizing that addiction isn’t a moral failing but a health challenge.

Moreover, advocacy plays a pivotal role.

We can reshape societal perspectives by supporting and endorsing policies focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment and prioritizing mental health.

Such policy-level changes can significantly reduce stigma by showcasing a collective commitment to understanding and support rather than judgment and alienation.

Through awareness-raising and advocacy, we can foster a community where individuals in recovery are met with compassion instead of condemnation.

Embracing Healing Over Shame

The Journey with Cornerstone Healing Center

Shaming individuals during their recovery can have profound and detrimental effects, hindering their progress and healing.

Embracing empathy, compassion, and genuine support is not just beneficial—it’s essential.

As a society, we must strive to be more understanding, shifting from judgment to encouragement, allowing those in recovery to reintegrate and heal fully.

Now more than ever, it’s imperative for every individual, community, and the broader society to actively participate in fostering recovery.

If you or someone you love need help with addiction or mental health, consider Cornerstone Healing Center.

We pride ourselves on a shame-free, evidence-based addiction treatment center, focusing on healing from the inside out for long-lasting recovery.

Let’s uplift and stand by those in need rather than casting them aside with shame.

Together, we can create an environment where healing truly thrives.

Let us help you start your journey to recovery.

Get compassionate evidence- based and trauma focused substance abuse treatment in Arizona.

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julie miller recovery writer and author

Julie Miller

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.

Lionel Estrada

Clinical Reviewer, Clinical Director

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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