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Shame about past drinking increases risk of relapse for alcoholics


Recovering alcoholics who feel shame about their past behaviors may have a greater chance of relapse, according to a study from the University of British Columbia.

While past research has suggested that shame may help and motivate an addict to change behavior, this new study asserts it may do more harm than good.

How do shame and guilt shape behavior?

Researchers Jessica Tracy, Ph.D., and doctoral student Daniel Randles of the University of British Columbia carried out the study to determine just how much shame can influence future behavior for alcoholics. They looked at the health outcomes of newly sober alcoholics while recording video sessions, conducting interviews and asking participants to report their feelings about past alcoholic incidences. Shame-related behaviors, such as shoulders slumping forward, were also recorded. Four weeks after the initial sessions, the participants were asked to report on their drinking behaviors.


Displaying shame--which the researchers say is different from guilt--indicated a higher chance of relapsing, in addition to poor health outcomes.

“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,” said Tracy and Randles.

The findings indicate that some shame-based recovery programs, like 12-step meetings, actually cause relapse, not prevent it. Randles and Tracey say that addiction counselors have long thought shame was detrimental to long-term recovery, and now there is some evidence to prove it.

“Our research suggests that shaming people for difficult-to-curb behaviors may be exactly the wrong approach to take,” they said. “Rather than prevent future occurrences of such behaviors, shaming may lead to an increase in these behaviors.”

Source: Psych Central

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/