The relationship between self-compassion and the risk for substance use disorder

Cynthia L. Phelps, Samantha M. Paniagua, Irmgard U. Willcockson, Jennifer S. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Objective This study explored the relationship between substance use disorder risk and self-compassion and posits a model for how the two are related through the mitigation of suffering. Method Study participants were recruited using social media to complete an online survey that included a basic socio-demographic survey and two validated instruments, the Self-Compassion Survey and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Alcohol Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), which screens for substance use disorder (SUD) risk. Established cut scores for ASSIST were used to divide participants into low, moderate and high-risk groups. Results Participants (n = 477) were 31 years old on average, almost evenly split by gender, mostly non-Hispanic white, slightly more likely to be single and to hold an Associate's degree or higher. Overall, 89% of participants reported using drugs and/or alcohol in their lifetime. SUD risk was distributed between low risk (52%), moderate risk (37%) and a smaller percentage of high risk (11%). Self-compassion was inversely related to SUD risk. The low risk group had a higher mean self-compassion score (M = 2.86, SD = 0.75) than the people who were high risk (M = 2.25, SD = 0.61) (t(298) = 5.58 p < 0.0001). Bivariate Pearson correlations showed strong associations between high risk and all self-compassion subscales, as well as low risk and five of the subscales. Conclusions This study suggests SUD risk has an inverse relationship to self-compassion. Raising self-compassion may be a useful addition to substance use disorder prevention and treatment interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-81
Number of pages4
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Drug addiction treatment
  • Self-compassion
  • Self-medication
  • Shame
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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