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GUILT AND SHAME - The Stigma that feeds Drug and Alcohol Addiction

How Stigma and Feelings of Guilt and Shame Feed Addiction​

St. Louis, MO – November 2021 – Feelings of guilt and shame are negative emotions that can contribute to addiction and prevent patients from getting the help they need.

“It’s the stigma that the world has that keeps people from getting well and also the stigma they have themselves feel,” Ashley Halker, MHA, Director of Operations for INSynergy said. “INSynergy is a stigma-free zone.”

Feelings of guilt and shame not only often accompany drug and alcohol dependence, they often feed it.

“There is a great amount of shame and guilt people struggle with,” Doctor Arturo Taca Jr. said. “And it keeps them from getting the treatment they need.”

“You really become to where you accept that for yourself,” Bruce, an INSynergy program Alum said. “And you don’t even realize how bad that it is.”

“The world, the society will tell you it is a moral defect and it’s not,” Halker said. “This is a brain disease.”

Addiction is a medical condition, not a moral defect. Mental health is like any other health issue.

“We try to use diagnoses like opiate dependence, alcohol dependence to understand that these are diagnoses,” Halker said. “And that these are treatable diagnoses.”

That perspective of treating addiction as a medical issue is what makes INSynergy unique. They specialize in taking a personalized approach with each patient, which is typical of any medical practice, but not necessarily typical of addiction treatment. INSynergy provides innovative medically-based solutions to treating patients while rejecting any notion of stigma and helping patients cope with the emotional aspects of recovery.

“Stigma has kept the addiction field stuck,” Dr. Taca said. “In addiction even though our organ of disfunction is the brain, we don’t appreciate the brain as being dysfunctional.”

“We blame it on poor character, poor value systems and that has kept addiction treatment in the dark ages,” Dr. Taca said. “We don’t do that.”

“It’s frustrating that its stigmatized but mental health and substance abuse is and has been decades behind anything medical,” Halker said. “If this was cardiac, we would have had major interventions 100 years ago.”

“It was a lot of shame and a lot of guilt that comes with it,” said Jerry, an orthopedic surgeon who is a program alum.   “You should have known better. Unpacking that guilt and shame was hard.”

“It is very real,” Jerry said about the stigma. “I remember early on in my journey walking my dogs in Shaw Park and there was a colleague of mine and his wife and we got about 50 yards away from each other and he and his wife peeled off the path and walked up the grass and the hill seemingly to avoid having to have contact or discussion with me. That hurt.” 

“Guilt and shame are probably one of the biggest drivers for people not to get into treatment,” Doctor Taca said. “I tell people you shouldn’t identify with all this guilt and shame. Eventually when you achieve success in this you should be very, very proud of what you have accomplished.”

“In the beginning people think that you should know better and it’s a choice and it’s not a choice,” Jerry said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done, I’m proud of who I have become.”

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