The role of shame in alcohol dependence; Narratives from those in recovery

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


A relationship between shame and alcohol dependence is reported, yet the precise nature of this relationship is largely unexplored. Shame has been proposed to be a risk factor of relapse, because the drinking of alcohol temporarily relieves feelings of shame and therefore reinforces drinking and maintains addictive behaviour. However it is also suggested that experiencing shame may be helpful for developing reasons for stopping drinking. This study investigated how those in recovery from alcohol dependence experienced shame, by exploring different ways that shame was spoken about.


Due to the personal experience of shame and the dearth of research from the perspective of those with alcohol dependence, a qualitative design was used. Transcripts were analysed using a narrative approach, focusing on how participants narrated their stories and made sense of their experiences, by identifying specific narrative techniques used to talk about shame.


Eight participants were recruited from Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) groups and invited to tell their story of recovery.


Shame was found to be central to initial drinking behaviour and subsequent dependence on alcohol. Participants talked about drinking providing a connection to others and a method of reducing feelings of inferiority. However shame was also found to be critical for recovery. Participants spoke of healing their shame only when feeling safe to do so. AA promoted this sense of safety through connection to others with similar experiences. Listening to others and sharing narratives helped participants develop a new narrative to understand their experiences and heal shame.


Dr Paul Davis, University of Surrey; Dr Kate Gleeson, University of Surrey

Conflicts of interest:

Funding Sources: None

No conflict of interest


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Miss Francesca Sawer