Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shame about past alcoholism predicts relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics

Date:
February 4, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Feeling shame about past instances of problem drinking may increase the likelihood of relapse and other health problems, according to a new study.

Feeling shame about past instances of problem drinking may increase the likelihood of relapse and other health problems, according to a new study in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, shows that behavioral displays of shame strongly predicted whether recovering alcoholics would relapse in the future.

Public shaming has long been viewed as a way to encourage people to amend their ways and research suggests that experiences of shame can motivate people to improve their self-image and contribute to a common good.

But it's not clear that improvement on a general level extends to specific behaviors. Researchers don't know whether experiencing shame about a DUI, for example, actually deters drinking and driving. In fact, some studies suggest that shame might do more harm than good, as it can motivate hiding, escape, and general avoidance of the problem.

Psychological scientists Jessica Tracy and Daniel Randles of the University of British Columbia wondered whether the distinction between shame and guilt might play an important role in determining future behavior.

People who feel shame may blame themselves for negative events and view their "bad" behavior as an unchangeable part of who they are. Thus, shame may actually be a risk factor for certain behaviors rather than a deterrent. But this doesn't seem to be the case for guilt.

"One reason that certain sobriety programs may be effective," the researchers say, "is because they encourage people to see their behaviors as something they should feel guilty, but not necessarily shameful, about."

Feeling guilt about previous behavior, as opposed to shame about being a "bad" person, may be an important component of recovery.

To investigate the influence of shame and guilt on recovery from addiction, Tracy and Randles looked at drinking and health outcomes in a sample of newly sober recovering alcoholics.

Shame is difficult to measure because people often avoid acknowledging feelings of shame. To account for this, the researchers used measures that assessed both self-reported shame and shame-related behaviors, such as a narrowed chest and slumped shoulders. The researchers hypothesized that participants would be less able to voluntarily control their behavioral displays of shame.

In the first session, participants were asked to "describe the last time you drank and felt badly about it," and their responses were video-recorded by the researchers. In a second session about four months later, participants were asked to report their drinking behaviors. The participants completed questionnaires about their physical and mental health at both of the sessions.

The results were revealing.

People who displayed more shame-related behavior were likely to be in poorer physical health at the time of the first session.

More surprising, though, was the finding that behavioral displays of shame predicted whether participants would relapse after the first session.

"How much shame participants displayed strongly predicted not only whether they relapsed, but how bad that relapse was -- that is, how many drinks they had if they did relapse," say Tracy and Randles.

Shame behaviors at the first session also predicted distressing psychiatric symptoms at the second session. And the data indicate a possible association between shame and worsening health over time.

In contrast, self-reported shame did not predict likelihood of relapse, number of drinks consumed, or health outcomes, providing further evidence that self-report may not be an accurate way of measuring shame.

Consistent with the researchers' hypotheses, self-reported guilt was not associated with any of the outcomes measured.

This study provides the first evidence that feeling shame about one's addiction can directly promote relapses.

"Treatment providers have long suspected that shame is a barrier to recovery, but this is the first time we've seen this link evidenced so robustly," note Tracy and Randles.

The results have clear implications for anyone who struggles with addiction or who has loved ones struggling with addiction, and it also has implications for researchers and clinicians who study emotion and addiction.

The findings are also important in light of the fact that some policymakers and judges have argued for the use of public shaming as a punitive measure against crime.

"Our research suggests that shaming people for difficult-to-curb behaviors may be exactly the wrong approach to take," Tracy and Randles argue. "Rather than prevent future occurrences of such behaviors, shaming may lead to an increase in these behaviors."

The researchers are conducting additional studies to test whether the effect of shame on behavior change generalizes to problematic behaviors beyond addiction.

This research was supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar Award and establishment grant, and a Canadian Institute for Health Research New Investigator Award.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. Randles, J. L. Tracy. Nonverbal Displays of Shame Predict Relapse and Declining Health in Recovering Alcoholics. Clinical Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/2167702612470645

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Shame about past alcoholism predicts relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130204114246.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, February 4). Shame about past alcoholism predicts relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130204114246.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Shame about past alcoholism predicts relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130204114246.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins