This Study Shows Shame Can Predict Addictive Behaviors More Than Depression

By September 7, 2018 February 20th, 2020 No Comments

There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

FTND note: This study does not discuss pornography, however, it shows that depression alone does not lead to addiction behaviors nearly as much as when depression leads to shame which leads to addiction-related behaviors. We need to learn how to help people who are struggling without shaming them—which involves seeing their whole worth and distinguishing between healthy guilt (unhealthy behaviors) versus unhealthy shame (“bad” person). We can learn principles from this study that we can apply to situations involving a porn struggle.

The full study can be accessed here.

Shame mediates the relationship between depression and addictive behaviors

Authors: Elena Bileviciusa, Alanna Singlea, Lindsay A. Bristowa, Melody Foota, Michael Ellery, Matthew T. Keough, Edward A. Johnson
Published: July 2018

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Addictive Behaviors 82 (2018) 94–100


Alcohol and gambling problems are common in young adults. Self-medication theory states that young adults with depression drink and/or gamble to escape negative emotions. Research shows that depression is a risk factor for drinking/gambling problems, but more work is needed to examine mediators underlying these associations. One potential mediator is shame. Shame is a self-directed emotion that follows a negative life event and is characterized by intense feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and embarrassment. Depressed individuals are especially susceptible to shame (and associated emotions). Shame has also been implicated in risk for addiction.

Accordingly, we predicted that elevated shame would explain why depression is associated with both alcohol and gambling problems.


A longitudinal design was used to examine this hypothesis. Undergraduates (N=210) completed self-reports of depression at baseline (Time 1) and then completed self-reports of shame, alcohol misuse, gambling problems one month later (Time 2).


Results showed that individuals with elevated depression at Time 1 endorsed high levels of shame at Time 2, which in turn predicted more gambling (β=.038, 95% CI [.010, .087]) and alcohol problems (β=.249, 95% CI [.123, .435]) at Time 2. We found that increased levels of shame explained the effects of depression on problem drinking and gambling.


Study findings improve our understanding of the depressive pathway to addiction by providing evidence for shame as a potential mechanism of this pathway.

Impact: Reducing shame can be a target of clinical interventions for young adults with depression and alcohol/ gambling problems.

The full study can be accessed here.

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