The importance of social context: neighborhood stressors, stress-buffering mechanisms, and alcohol, drug, and mental health disorders

Soc Sci Med. 2007 Nov;65(9):1867-81. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.045. Epub 2007 Jul 5.


This study examines the relationship among neighborhood stressors, stress-buffering mechanisms, and likelihood of alcohol, drug, and mental health (ADM) disorders in adults from 60 US communities (n=12,716). Research shows that larger support structures may interact with individual support factors to affect mental health, but few studies have explored buffering effects of these neighborhood characteristics. We test a conceptual model that explores effects of neighborhood stressors and stress-buffering mechanisms on ADM disorders. Using Health Care for Communities with census and other data, we found a lower likelihood of disorders in neighborhoods with a greater presence of stress-buffering mechanisms. Higher neighborhood average household occupancy and churches per capita were associated with a lower likelihood of disorders. Cross-level interactions revealed that violence-exposed individuals in high crime neighborhoods are vulnerable to depressive/anxiety disorders. Likewise, individuals with low social support in neighborhoods with high social isolation (i.e., low-average household occupancy) had a higher likelihood of disorders. If replicated by future studies using longitudinal data, our results have implications for policies and programs targeting neighborhoods to reduce ADM disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Continental Population Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Religion
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Support
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / organization & administration
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*