A new study published in Addictive Behaviors explores the connection between internalized alcohol stigma, depression, and self-compassion. For women who have experienced sexual assault and alcohol use disorder, the presence of self-compassion eased the consequences of internalized alcohol stigma. This research provides insight into the correlates of self-compassion among individuals with psychological challenges.
Data demonstrates that the number of women drinking problematically has increased in recent years. In addition, women who have been victims of sexual assault are more vulnerable to abusing alcohol. Alcohol abuse intersects with sexual assault on two fronts: the more one drinks, the more vulnerable one becomes to sexual assault, and the experience of sexual assault makes one vulnerable to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse is a highly stigmatized disorder, especially for women struggling with addiction. Prior research has found that internalized stigma affects mental health and well-being. For example, women detoxing from alcohol with more significant internalized stigma also experienced more depressive symptoms. The research team of Tosca Braun and colleagues were curious to discover what factors may protect women from internalized stigma and consequently decrease symptoms of depression.
Self-compassion has been found in other studies to decrease internalized stigma and increase positive feelings. The research team, in order to expand what is known about the role of self-compassion, sought to use participants who had experienced both sexual assault and alcohol abuse disorder. Participant data was taken from a more extensive study on the relationships between distress, sexual assault, and alcohol abuse during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were restricted to those over 18 who lived in the United States and had a history of sexual assault.
Participants completed assessments of sexual victimization, drinking motives, alcohol use disorder symptoms, post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, internalized alcohol stigma, and self-compassion. Analysis of this data revealed that levels of internalized alcohol stigma and self-compassion were critical to the differing amounts of depressive symptoms. Those with internalized alcohol symptoms experienced more significant depressive symptoms, while those with self-compassion experienced less.
Those with heightened internalized stigma agreed with statements such as “I have the thought that a major reason for my drinking is my own poor character,” while those with heightened self-compassion agreed with statements such as “When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.”
The research team acknowledges some limitations to their study. First, the study is cross-sectional, making any cause-and-effect conclusions impossible. Second, data was collected using Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform likely only used by those with internet access, consequently excluding a potentially impactful demographic. Finally, there was no control group of women who had no history of sexual assault; this may have provided meaningful information about the role of sexual assault in the development of depression.
Despite these limitations, the research team explained that their work is relevant to the study of alcohol abuse, depression, and sexual assault, “Our findings also support emerging research suggesting that trauma exposure, including sexual assault, may increase vulnerability to cross-cutting stigma internalization and related processes (Keirns et al.,2021; Schröder et al., 2021), including internalized-AS (Stolzenburg et al., 2018).”
They study, “Self-compassion buffers the internalized alcohol stigma and depression link in women sexual assault survivors who drink to cope“, was authored by Tosca D. Braun, Zöe Green, Lidia Z. Meshesha, Marie A. Sillice, Jennifer Read, Ana M. Abrantes.