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Shame about past alcoholism predicts relapse and declining health in recovering alcoholics
Date:2/4/2013

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 e
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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