Eliminate Family Shame to Help a Loved One

happy family

Feelings of family shame create a problem when a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, family members often feel ashamed when a loved one abuses a substance due to his or her behavior. The problem with shame is that it harms the entire family and prevents effective solutions. Deny the shame associated with substance abuse so that the family focuses on a loved one’s needs and recovery goals.

The Downside of Family Shame

Psych Central explains that family shame actually contributes to the co-dependency of family members when a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol. Feeling ashamed of a loved one’s behavior or the stigma of an addiction prevents loved ones from taking appropriate actions to help encourage treatment.

When you or other family members feel ashamed, it leads to negative thinking patterns and anger. Problems that arise from feelings of shame include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Enabling behaviors
  • Dysfunctional communication strategies
  • Excessive care-taking

According to Psych Central, co-dependent family members allow shame to change their actions and behaviors. You or other loved ones allow an addiction to persist by protecting a loved one from the natural consequences of substance abuse. It lowers your self-esteem and makes you less able to communicate your fears and concerns to a loved one.

Ways to Deny Family Shame

The National Institutes on Health state that feelings of shame develop when you or a loved one develop feelings of failure. When a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol, he or she develops a feeling of shame that stems from the failure to avoid the substance. Family members develop feelings of failure that stem from their inability to prevent substance abuse or encourage a loved one to enter a treatment program.

Since shame plays an essential role in preventing treatment, you must address the emotions and problems that stem from shame so that you have the tools to encourage addiction treatment. Ways that you and other family members deny shame include:

  • Getting educated about addiction
  • Recognizing addiction as a disease
  • Focusing on a loved one’s health rather than his or her behavior
  • Admitting that a problem exists
  • Refusing to hide from friends or neighbors
  • Discussing the situation openly

Shame persists because you focus too much attention on a loved one’s odd behaviors or the stigma associated with substance abuse. By educating yourself and other family members about the facts and the way an addiction develops, you eliminate feelings of shame and embarrassment.

How to Help a Loved One

Denying shame allows you to focus on helping a loved one. According to the National Institutes on Health, substance abuse changes your family’s dynamics. Encouraging treatment helps a loved one start working on recovery goals and allows a family to learn better ways to handle a loved one’s inappropriate behavior and addiction.

Treating addiction starts with addressing the situation and the factors that contribute to a loved one’s substance abuse. Shame does not help your family and actually causes more problems, so address the emotion through education and then encourage professional treatment so that a loved one works on realistic recovery goals.

Getting your family involved in a loved one’s addiction recovery program starts when you admit that negative emotions stem from the addiction and then address those concerns. Help a loved one by focusing on your emotional responses so that you support a loved one’s treatment and recovery plans.

Our medical professionals at Roots Through Recovery can help you and your loved one battle addiction and eliminate shame. Visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807 or call (866) 766-8776 for immediate assistance.


  1. Drug Abuse Hurts Families, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, http://easyread.drugabuse.gov/effects-family.php,
  2. Darlene Lancer, J.D., MFT., Shame: The Core of Addiction and Codependency, Psych Central, January 30, 2013, http://psychcentral.com/lib/shame-the-core-of-addiction-and-codependency/14258/,
  3. Owen Flanagan, The Shame of Addiction, The National Institutes on Health, October 8, 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3792617/,
  4. Impact of Substance Abuse on Families, The National Institutes on Health, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/

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