FRIDAY, Feb. 23, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- People with severe alcoholism may have more trouble interpreting other's emotions, new research suggests.
Being able to recognize people's emotional facial expressions is a cornerstone of non-verbal communication and can impact how well a person interacts socially. Alcoholics tend to have trouble decoding these expressions, researchers say.
These facial clues "are key features of communication since they convey most information on emotional expression and regulation as well as on social motives," study author Marie-Line Foisy, a researcher at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, said in a prepared statement.
In a new study in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Foisy and colleagues set out to determine if alcoholics can "repair" deficits in interpreting facial expressions.
The researchers recruited 49 alcoholics from a long-stay post-detoxification treatment center during the third or fourth week of detoxification. Of these participants, 22 remained abstinent from alcohol two months later, while 27 dropped out of the treatment program. The researchers also studied a control group of 22 people, matched with the treatment center participants for age, gender and educational level.
The participants were given an "emotional facial expression decoding test" of 16 photographs depicting "universal" facial expressions -- e.g., happiness, anger, disgust, and sadness -- before the study began and two months later.
The researchers found not only did the decoding deficits continue despite three months of abstinence from alcohol, but the 27 alcoholics who dropped out of the treatment program had the worst decoding performance at baseline.
"Our results corroborate and expand upon previous findings of more errors in accurate labeling, and overestimation of the intensity level of the emotion displayed, among alcoholic participants when compared to control participants," said Foisy.
Foisy went on to say that trouble in accurately interpreting facial cues could help determine which alcoholics are more likely recover.
Alcoholics with the most trouble understanding others' emotions may "also have more difficulties in dealing with the conventional detoxification process," she said.
According to Foisy, alcoholics who have more trouble decoding others' emotions may benefit from training programs aimed at improving interpersonal skills.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcoholism.