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Body Language that Displays Shame Predicts Drinking Problems

Update Date: Feb 05, 2013 03:41 AM EST

Certain body language signs, especially those that display shame, can strongly predict the onset as well as the severity of a relapse to alcoholism, according to a new study.

The latest study was conducted by researchers from University of British Columbia where researchers were trying to find whether or not public shaming, a technique used since ancient times, helps alcoholics recover.

"Our study finds that how much shame people display can strongly predict not only whether they will go on to relapse, but how bad that relapse will be - that is, how many drinks they will consume," said psychology professor Jessica Tracy, from UBC, according to a news release from the University.

Moderate alcohol consumption has many benefits, including an improvement in quality of life in old age; but when consumed in excess, it takes a huge toll on the physical and psychological well-being of a person. According to estimates, nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States are either alcoholics or have other alcohol-related problems.

The study assessed participants' recovery from alcoholism based on two study sessions. In the first session, people were asked about their drinking behavior, physical and mental health and how bad they felt about their drinking habits. In the second session, conducted four months later, the same study participants were asked about their drinking behavior. The sessions were videotaped.

Interestingly, people who wrote or said that they were ashamed about their drinking had less chances of relapse by the next session, compared with people who displayed body language signals of shame like slumped shoulders and narrow chests.

The people who had more signs of being ashamed about their habits were also more likely to have severe drinking problems and worse health problems than people who wrote that they felt bad about drinking.

The study is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (Open access to this study).                                     

Researchers say that the study will help doctors, friends and family members of alcoholics identify the potential predictors of a relapse.

Also, the study shows how shaming may not be among the best routes to take when helping people recover from a habit.

"Our research suggests that shaming people for difficult-to-curb behaviors may be exactly the wrong approach to take. Rather than prevent future occurrences of such behaviors, shaming may lead to an increase in these behaviours," said Tracy and Daniel Randles, who is a graduate student and one of the study authors. 

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