Gratitude brings promise for drug abusers

11 January 2018 | Research
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NUS Psychology research team Assoc Prof Tong (left) and Chi Ching

A study by NUS Psychology researchers has found that male drug abusers with a grateful disposition a trait characterised by the tendency to notice and appreciate positive aspects of life have less severe drug use and are more likely to take an active and constructive approach to managing their problems. These findings could potentially be incorporated into policies and interventions to help individuals better cope with drug problems.

Associate Professor Eddie Tong and PhD student Leung Chi Ching arrived at these insights after surveying 105 male drug abusers in Singapore on their drug use and level of dispositional gratitude between April 2014 and November 2015.

Past research has demonstrated that gratitude is beneficial to individuals’ physical and mental well-being. Studies also show that substance abuse is a coping response adopted by some to relieve the distress and challenges faced, particularly when other coping methods are unavailable or perceived to be ineffective.

Chi Ching, who is also a psychologist with the Singapore Prison Service, hopes to tap on psychological research to search for new ways to help these individuals.

“Since positive emotions have been shown to improve lives, I would like to understand how a powerful emotion like gratitude could help drug abusers better cope with their challenges and eventually reduce or eliminate their addictions,” she said.

The NUS research findings suggest that interventions that harness gratitude could help drug abusers develop better coping skills, which can in turn support them in their drug rehabilitation. An example of such interventions could include a journal for drug abusers to pen what they are grateful for on a daily basis – an easy-to-implement invention that can complement existing therapies. Current drug intervention programmes involve methods such as behavioral therapy and counselling.

Assoc Prof Tong and Chi Ching pointed out that their findings only reveal the correlation between gratitude and the degree of drug use, and do not imply how they are causally related. They added that more studies using larger samples would be needed to further validate the results, as well as to examine if the relationship between gratitude and drug use is also applicable to female drug abusers.

The research team will next investigate whether gratitude reduces drug consumption over time as well as the probability of drug abusers reverting to drug use.

See press release.