A University of British Columbia study has found that body language can indicate whether a problem drinker will relapse. The study, which explored drinking and health outcomes in newly sober recovering alcoholics, is the first to show that physical manifestations of shame—like slumped shoulders—can directly predict a relapse in people who struggle with substances.
The study, published in February in Clinical Psychological Science, assessed the body language and self-reported shame of 46 participants in videotaped interviews, several months apart. In an initial session participants were asked to “describe the last time you drank and felt badly about it.” In a second session, 4 months later, participants were asked to report their drinking behaviors. They completed questionnaires about their physical and mental health at both of the sessions.
The study found that participants who displayed greater levels of shame behaviors in the first session were more likely to relapse by the second session. In contrast, written or verbal expressions of shame did not predict their likelihood of relapse.
According to the researchers, the study’s findings suggest that shaming people for difficult-to-curb behaviors may be the wrong approach to take; rather than preventing future occurrences of such behaviors, shaming may lead to an increase in these behaviors.
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