Unfortunately, drinking too much alcohol can make people feel ashamed, especially if you believe that drinking excessively suggests there is something defective about you. Or you believe it is something that needs to be hidden from other people, as you fear their judgement. This is the nature of shame, it is a particularly negative feeling, and is often a factor in depression. It is usually tinged with regret of course, at having done things while drunk that we would never do sober – perhaps hurting other people or behaving inappropriately.
How can we reduce the effects of shame then, or minimise it’s impact? How can you feel less ashamed of drinking alcohol? The first thing to consider is compassion. These are the feelings of nurturing, caring and forgiveness that we normally feel towards a child or a loved one, but we also need to apply to ourselves. Most of us are our own harshest critic, and when feeling ashamed about drinking that tendency can go into overdrive.
So forgiving yourself is an important aspect of reducing shame. Some will have concerns here, that if they forgive themselves then they’ll lose control of their drinking entirely. But this is not to suggest that the behaviour itself is forgiven, just the person is forgiven; “I did something I regret, but that does not make me a bad person”, for instance – taking responsibility for your actions, rather than berating or blaming yourself. Many people find the idea of self-compassion awkward, it’s not something we’re accustomed to, but most therapeutic approaches recognise the importance of it for mental health.
Some might say that the easiest way to avoid feeling ashamed is to stop drinking so much. But that is overly simplistic, because many people find they cannot do that easily, they may have tried many times, but without success. A vicious circle can develop, whereby someone feels ashamed of their drinking, becomes self-critical and starts to feel depressed as a result. This can then be a trigger for further drinking, as alcohol often lifts your mood. But again, the important thing to distinguish is that drinking too much is a regrettable habit, not a sign of a personality defect.