Problem Drinking and Self-Forgiveness in College Students

Student Author(s)

Sarah Peterson

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van

Document Type


Event Date



Research in the field of forgiveness has been growing over the past two decades or so, with research on self-forgiveness comprising a fraction of this work (Enright, 1996; Hall & Fincham, 2005; Wohl, Deshea, & Wahkinney, 2008). While the research on self-forgiveness itself is somewhat minimal, there are even fewer studies examining the benefits of self-forgiveness for specific transgressions, particularly regarding addictive behaviors, such as problem drinking. This study aimed to assess the link between forgiving the self for a transgression committed after consuming alcohol and the decision to drink again. Using an online survey methodology, we assessed personality factors such as shame- and guiltproneness, impulsivity, and typical drinking behaviors. We then asked participants to write about a time when their drinking had a negative effect on their relationships with others. Participants were then randomly assigned to either go through a self-forgiveness reflection or a neutral reflection about their transgression. They then were assessed on a variety of self-forgiveness scales, as well as their propensity to drink in the future. Results indicated that although there were no main effects, further analyses revealed several moderators of the relationship between self-forgiveness and problem drinking—specifically the extent to which participants thought the transgression was caused by their drinking, as well as participants’ propensity to drink to intoxication. These results suggest that the relationship between self-forgiveness and problem drinking is complex and depends on several specific behavioral and cognitive factors. Future research should explore these factors in more detail to give a more detailed account of how we respond after committing a transgression mitigated by alcohol.

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