There are different schools of thought among researchers on the effects of shame in addiction. While some experts think that it could be used to overpower it, other researchers believe that shame could rather amplify addiction. Very recently, Neil Steinberg, author of the memoir Drunkard: A Hard Drinking Life, said on NPR’s All Things Considered that he thinks most people are shameful of their addictions.
Steinberg was responding to questions from NPR host Michel Martin on the death of actor Nelsan Ellis. The True Blood movie star died from alcohol withdrawal complications. His family came up with a statement on his death stating that Ellis reluctant to talk about his problem when he was alive. His father shared information on his death hoping that it helps to reduce the stigma placed on addiction these days. Reducing such stigma is particularly helpful for people who are ashamed of their addiction problem.
Helping addicts overcome their shame has been gaining grounds for some time now. Experts believe that treatment will not be fully effective if the shame aspect is not adequately dealt with. They note that should shame not be handled, it could amplify addiction in case of a relapse.
In the interview, Steinberg explained that addiction isn’t an illness that would get cured even if you get the best help. He notes that it’s a battle addicts will always fight. “And I think people tend to take kind of a sneering, joshing look at it like it’s just some excuse that you throw up when you get caught. And that’s not the case at all. This is a terrible illness that afflicts millions of Americans.”
While Steinberg and other researchers think that the shame of addiction must be deal with, others strongly believe that shame can serve as a necessary and useful catalyst to help someone overcome their addictions. That is the point of view of psychiatrist Sally L. Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University. The two authored an op-ed in The New York Times last year titled “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience.” In the piece, the researchers argue that a patient’s feeling of shame can be used to influence a change in their behavioral pattern for the better.
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