The concept of an addict’s guilt may seem foreign and contradictory to a loved one. During active addiction, people lie, lose their jobs and bankrupt themselves or their families seemingly without a second thought (though they often do feel guilt but then use more drugs to bury those feelings).

When an addict gets sober, the guilt hits hard.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Guilt

Guilt arises when a person feels that they have violated their morals or principles or fallen short of their personal expectations, resulting in harm to self or others. Although unpleasant, some degree of guilt in early recovery is a good sign. In fact, in some cases a lack of guilt can be a symptom of mental illness. If you’ve lied, put other people in danger, or committed crimes or other acts you’re not proud of, it’s healthy and natural to feel guilty.

In order to effectively manage guilt, you have to identify the type of guilt you’re up against. When guilt is a catalyst for a positive change in behavior, it is healthy guilt. Guilt can lead to empathy, or the consideration of how one’s actions affect other people, a skill that is critical for long-term addiction recovery. It also encourages people to hold themselves accountable for their actions and make amends for the harm they caused, which helps to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes again.

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