Forgiving Oneself Increases Alcohol Abstinence

People who struggle with alcohol use problems often experience a range of emotions relating to their alcohol use, including anger, frustration, shame, and most importantly guilt. A new study, conducted by Jon R. Webb of East Tennessee State University and Elizabeth A.R. Robinson and Kirk J. Brower of the University of Michigan, suggests that forgiving oneself helps decrease relapse for people with alcohol problems. “Forgiveness is not a denial of justifiable or legitimate negative responses to offense, but is an internal process, freely chosen by a victim of offense, irrespective of subsequent interaction with the offender,” said the team. “The relationship between forgiveness and health is thought to be both direct and indirect. The direct relationship is conceptualized to be based on an inextricable association between rumination and the process of (un)forgiveness and the resolution of the negative emotions associated with un-forgiveness, such as anger, hostility, resentment, hatred, and fear.” They added that the increased stress resulting from not forgiving another or oneself can also negatively impact physical health.

Previous research has indicated that forgiveness can also provide psychological health benefits when applied to alcohol issues. Specifically, people with alcohol problems have stated that a key factor of their recovery is the ability to forgive themselves for their behaviors. To examine this relationship further, the researchers evaluated 149 individuals who were undergoing alcohol treatment. They assessed their psychological well-being and how often they drank at the beginning of the study and six months later. They found that forgiveness was the primary issue influencing alcohol related problems, and psychological distress was specifically linked to the number of days abstinent and the number of drinks consumed per day. “Higher levels of forgiveness of others (indirect only) were associated with lower levels of psychiatric distress, which, in turn, was associated with fewer alcohol problems.” The team added, “Understanding the nature of the forgiveness-alcohol outcome relationship, albeit in the initial stages, facilitates and informs the utilization of forgiveness as an intervention tool.”

Webb, J. R., Robinson, E. A. R., & Brower, K. J. (2011, March 28). Mental Health, Not Social Support, Mediates the Forgiveness-Alcohol Outcome Relationship. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0022502

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • tim


    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:44 AM

    I think forgiveness brings this calmness in you that nothing else can.You are at rest and there is no troubling thought at the back of your mind haunting you.In such a situation,it is much easier to put in effort and make something happen-quitting alcohol in this case.
    So yes,this seems like a good new way to try and abstain.

  • Vickie


    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    To make this stick, it takes a whole lot of time and energy. You may forgive yourself for the drinking one day, and then the next have some major guilt trips about it all over again. One of the biggest truths that I have discovered in life, and believe me, it took a long time for this to register, is that you cannot remake the past. Unfortunately you do not get a redo when it comes to making those changes. But you can offer yourself a little slack and forgive yourself for the actions that you have done in the past and move forward vowing to do it right the next time.

  • JEFF


    September 23rd, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    Forgiveness sounds like an interesting approach. But the same forgiveness can work in a negative manner as well. So the addict will need to be very careful and hopefully has help at hand. The reason I say it can backfire is because if initially the person has anger for being so into alcohol then forgiveness can also rid him of all the guilt and he might just go on to binge-drink!

  • Jack


    September 24th, 2011 at 6:50 AM

    Ok so forgiveness of oneself is good and all but not to the exclusion so that they forget the loved ones that they have hurt all along the way. They should never forget that.

  • Leanna Kate Weathers

    Leanna Kate Weathers

    September 24th, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    Should you forgive yourself though? Is it right to to let go all of the harm you have caused yourself? I wouldn’t want to consider my self “off the hook” for turning my own life into a mess. By doing this you seem to be admitting defeat, much like you would be by forgiving someone else who has turned your life into shambles. Forgiving yourself sounds like a way to not be accountable for your own actions, and when this happens your alcohol abuse will only get worse. A much better way to become alcohol abstinent is to admit that it was your fault, realize that you did this to yourself and come up with a plan to correct your wrong doings. Do this and you have shown the remorse necessary to forgive yourself.

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