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Alcoholism and Emotions Project

This line of research, funded by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research of B.C. and the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), aims to examine the role of emotions and attributions in influencing the behavioral and health outcomes of recovering alcoholics. The primary goal of the research is to test alcoholics who tend to experience certain self-conscious emotions (e.g., guilt, authentic pride) fare better over the long-term compared to those who experience other self-conscious emotions (e.g., shame, hubristic pride). Supporting this hypothesis, research led by Dan Randles found that newly sober alcoholics who nonverbally display shame while discussing the last time they drank (prior to sobriety) are more likely to relapse and decline in health 4 months later, suggesting that shame may be part of a vicious cycle of addiction, and shame displays can be used to predict recovery trajectories (Randles & Tracy, in press).

In addition, because we collected a large amount of data thus far in this project (i.e., numerous questionnaires and verbal and nonverbal assessments in over 150 recovering alcoholics, both newly sober and long-term sober), a number of other findings are emerging as well. For example, in work led by Will Dunlop, we have found that participants who, when discussing the last time they drank, tend to talk about the event in redemptive terms (i.e., as leading to positive personality change following a low point, or ‘bottoming out’), are far more likely to maintain sobriety months later compared to those who do not discuss their past drinking in redemptive terms (Dunlop & Tracy, in press-a; Dunlop & Tracy, in press-b). These findings point to possible interventions for future research on addiction, and are consistent with longstanding theoretical accounts, from the narrative literature (e.g., the work of Dan McAdams), on the importance of redemption for mental health.