Date of this Version
Research has discussed the use of alcohol to self-medicate posttraumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms following child/adolescent sexual abuse (CASA). Less research has examined the self-medication hypothesis in college students. Further, investigation of the self-medication hypothesis generally precludes the integration of additional psychological vulnerabilities that may impact students’ alcohol consumption. Supported by the “dynamic” stress-diathesis perspective, emotion regulation (ER) difficulties and insufficient dissociative tendencies existing prior to and potentially altered after CASA exposure may relate to problematic alcohol use. The current study aimed to provide an initial, cross-sectional examination of 1) the relations between CASA exposure severity and alcohol use, 2) the self-medicating role of alcohol use for PTSD symptoms, and 3) the integration of the diathesis-stress perspective such that ER difficulties and dissociative tendencies may mediate or moderate the relations among CASA exposure, PTSD symptoms, and alcohol use. Participants included 213 college students mandated to a brief alcohol intervention. After completion of a baseline assessment, results primarily indicated that the relationship between CASA severity and alcohol consumption is indirect. While CASA severity related to increased PTSD symptoms, PTSD symptoms related to greater ER difficulties and dissociative tendencies, in separate models. After controlling for the significant effect of social desirability, ER difficulties and dissociative tendencies positively related to greater alcohol consumption. Most notably, ER difficulties moderated the relations between CASA and PTSD symptoms as well as CASA and alcohol use albeit in an unexpected direction. As CASA severity increased, PTSD symptoms and alcohol use increased at the greatest rate for individuals reporting low levels of ER difficulties. Results highlight a potential phenomenon where perceived superior regulatory abilities reflect reduced insight into adaptive ER including alcohol consumption as an adaptive regulatory strategy in an alcohol-laden college environment. Future research should work to replicate the current findings in a larger student sample, particularly using longitudinal research methods to allow for temporal interpretability and a more sound examination of results between genders.
Adviser: Dennis E. McChargue