The Shame of Secrecy and Shame


A Family Disease

Addiction generates shame in both the user and the user’s family.  Shame is a complex emotion with multiple sources, but it often mirrors the prevailing mores of the society in which the use occurs. Shame has a few predictable partners. They are silence and its siamese twin, secrecy.


Silent and Secret

A clear understanding of the object of the shame (alcoholism) is hindered by the dark shadow cast by secrecy, silence and condemnation. Addiction is a disease that thrives in an environment of secrecy, silence and condemnation. The informational vacuum created by the ethic of silence gives more “operating room” for addiction to wreak its havoc. Secrecy and shame contribute to the spread of the disease. The absence of frank and blame-free discussion of this large part of an incredible number of people’s lives perpetuates and preserves the capacity of the disease and the diseased to do harm.

The Persistence of Condemnation

"Shame" converts the concept of “treatment” into a process that “overcomes” unacceptable behavior. The idea of "recovery" carries with it the stigma of social disapproval of the behavior that necessitated the recovery. Many spouses or, these days, children, who sense there may be an addiction problem in their family choose silence in the face of legitimate concerns. True, some have had no prior experience with or education about addiction and are not aware of its corrosive effect.  They genuinely do not know how to make a judgment about whether alcohol or drugs is a contributor to the dilemma they face.

The Family Secret


Too many others, however, have grown up in “closed” environments where addiction was tolerated and not discussed within the family, and most certainly not outside of the family. Others choose not to reveal the problem, because they are legitimately fearful that disclosure of a spouse’s alcoholism or addiction will reflect badly on their own judgment, because they are afraid of “what others might think”, or because they fear it will cause a loss of employment and the financial support they rely upon.

Do Not Keep It A Secret--Ever!

If you, as a spouse, are concerned that addiction is a problem, whether for yourself, your spouse or a child, the worst thing you can do is to keep it silent. In fact, there are many, many ways to educate yourself, without triggering the consequences you fear.



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