Childhood adversity and alcohol use problems in emerging adults: investigating the role of stress and coping strategies
Within Canada, alcohol use and alcohol related problems are experienced disproportionately by emerging adults (aged 18 to 29). Furthermore, emerging adulthood is characterized by events (e.g., beginning post-secondary studies) associated with high-stress levels. Individuals sensitized to stress via experiences of childhood adversity may be at a heightened risk of using alcohol as a coping strategy to alleviate experiences of acute stress during this transitional period. This strategy is, however, maladaptive because alcohol use can increase the risk for adverse outcomes such as poor interpersonal relationships and academic outcomes and does not address the cause of the distress. As such, the proposed study examined explanatory models that predicted alcohol use and related problems in emerging adults. It was hypothesized that perceived stress and disengagement coping (i.e., strategies aimed at diverting from the stressor and/or its associated emotions) would explain the relationship between childhood adversity and alcohol use and related problems. Students at Lakehead University (N = 150) were recruited to complete a series of self-report measures assessing childhood adversity, perceived stress, disengagement coping strategies, and alcohol variables (frequency, quantity, and problems). As expected, childhood adversity was positively and significantly associated with all study variables, except alcohol frequency and quantity. Perceived stress and disengagement coping strategies mediated the relationship between childhood adversity and alcohol related problems. Unexpectedly, perceived stress and disengagement coping strategies did not mediate the relationship between childhood adversity and alcohol frequency. Results suggest that university institutions might consider providing education around stress management through trauma-informed practices and coping strategies to mitigate the impact of early adversity on later alcohol related problems among emerging adults.