Category Archives: Alcoholism

Alcoholism And Guilt .v. Shame

alcoholic_shameAny one who drinks alcohol even moderately has a few “funny” stories to tell.

The time they ended up snogging so-and-so or sleeping in the neighbour’s shrubbery makes water-cooler joke time.

We can all feel some temporary guilt around these adventures too, when quizzed by a family member or it’s brought up at work.

But when temporary guilt pangs become more serious, do I have a problem with alcohol?


Guilt For What I Did, When Drunk

Guilt usually occurs about specific events.

In the context of an average drunken night out, a person could feel guilty about specific events that happened when drunk, feelings or thoughts that came out unconsciously that wouldn’t normally, or physical accidents, slips or falls that occur when intoxicated.

None of these things alone, when part of an occasional night out, merits an ongoing personal struggle for self-worth.

But when alcoholic drinking becomes habitual, and when the coping mechanism has become an ongoing habit, without which we cannot seem to survive, then the guilt episodes usually increase in frequency.

As the drinking increases, then these minor slips or spills do too.

Standing jokes about so-and-so’s drinking, become the norm amongst friends. Real concerns about his/her well-being are masked or talked over, as long as it can be reasonably excused or the consequences can be joked through.

Escalating (Downhill) To Alcoholic Shame – This Means Something About Me

But guilt about one off alcoholic events becomes shame when the guilty nights out and negative consequences have happened so often, that we believe it’s entirely down to us. That we as a person, deserve to be ashamed. The tone of this form of self-reproach is much more at an identity level – “I am a shameful drinker”, than one-off events or excuses can get us out of.


Is Alcoholic Shame Useful?

The shame that usually accompanies extensive alcoholism is only useful in as far as it becomes enough of a negative motivator to spur us into making a much more useful decision – to stop or to get help.

The type of never-ending, spiralling, ongoing shame, whilst still attached to the bottle, is not. When I used to be an alcoholism treatment adviser at Edinburgh Rehab Centre, families would always ask – how can I get them to stop???? He’s killing himself!… the answer was always the same – they’ve not had enough pain yet. It’s the sad truth.

Sometimes shame is the elastic band that shrinks self-esteem low enough to where the individual believes they don’t *deserve* help. Then it can become quite dangerous, as in theory the person would have to reach even greater levels of pain before getting help.

Inevitably in family situations, usually one or more of those surrounding the alcoholic has attempted to intervene by this point.

Other times, shame is the motivator. It is enough emotional pain, besides the physical consequences that have happened, to push someone to get the help they need.

Telling the difference between these different versions of emotional pain is tricky, and let’s be honest, we need help to do this. If you have a loved one in the throes of the alcohol bottle, and unwilling to get assistance – then get advice. Naturally, your doctor, or qualified healthcare provider is the first point of contact, in such cases.

When shame ultimately moves us into a place of readiness to get help – then it can be seen (usually in retrospect) as a positive contributor, to our long term alcoholism recovery journey.


Edinburgh Rehab Centre
64a Cumberland Street
Tel:0131 510 3327
XQ5W+9V Edinburgh