The Shame Game and It’s Role in Your Addiction Recovery

Man praying by the lake

Growing up in a Christian home, I had a ton of advantages. I had an awesome faith community, youth pastors, pastors who genuinely knew me and loved me, parents that taught me “right” from “wrong,” and constant bible teaching in my life that provided wisdom, perspective and a knowledge of good and evil.

One of the difficult aspects of growing up in such a strong Christian community was being able to distinguish between the voices of “guilt” vs. that of “shame”. I mean, they seemed so similar to me and were used almost synonymously.

Unfortunately, not being able to separate them with precision and accuracy, caused me a great deal of self-harm, self-pity and ultimately self-destruction.

So let’s take a few minutes and unpack “Shame vs. Guilt” and how understanding them will empower your recover:

#1- Shame is generic, guilt is specific.

Shame is a shotgun; guilt is a kill shot. Shame is generic in its accusations. It will probably sound something like this: “You’re failing!” “You need to perform better, or no one will love you!”

Guilt produced by the Holy Spirit will be SPECIFIC in its correction. It will sound something like this; “When you raised your voice talking to your child this morning, you shouldn’t have lashed out in anger”.

Sunspire Health


Shame never identifies the REAL issues, it always deals with a general sense of failure. If you feel like you’re failing today but can’t find the pulse of why you feel like you’re failing, you might be a victim of shame.

#2- Shame attacks your IDENTITY, guilt convicts behavior.

Shame thrives off of “false identity statements”. They probably sound something like this: “You’re an alcoholic!” “You’re a relational failure!” You’re a heroin addict!”

These might be statements with some truth, but to simplify your identity down to one issue of failure, is a complete lie.

Guilt, however identifies and convicts behavior. It might sound something like this; “When you behaved poorly last night, you sinned in the following ways (list wrong behaviors here)”. Guilt addresses the real behavioral problems; shame simply tries to destroy your whole identity.

#3- Shame desires to give you no escape routes, guilt is meant to lead to confession and repentance.

Woman by the lake

Shame wants to throw you into the abyss of darkness and throw away the key so you can rot in your own self-made personal prison. Shame doesn’t want community around you, and it certainly doesn’t want you to believe that Jesus loves you. Or, God wants to meet you and embrace you right where you are.

Guilt, however, seeks to cause regret and remorse that leads to REPENTANCE and renewed fellowship with God and others. Biblical guilt always leads to fellowship, not isolation.

Is your personal addiction recovery from opiates or meth or alcohol shaped more by guilt or shame? Is the inner pulse of your life dominated by negative self-identity statements, or is it fueled by conviction that leads to repentance and a renewed connection with God and others?

Reconnect with Jesus. Seek Him for healing and strength, and ask Him for direction on finding a drug treatment facility.

Though small in their semantical range, the application of “Guilt vs. Shame” has life or death implications. May you reject shame, respond to guilt and renew the greatness of knowing the strength of God in your recovery.


Pastor Ryan Moffet family photoAbout the Author:

Ryan Moffat is the teaching pastor at Vast Church in Sisters, OR and is currently working on his Masters in Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, OR

Ryan received his BS in Bible and Theology and a minor in counseling from Multnomah University. He has pastored students, families and is passionate about Christ-centered recovery and healing. He’s been married to his beautiful wife Michelle for 13 years and they enjoy raising four crazy, unique and special kids together.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 16, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 16, 2017
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.