The stress-response dampening hypothesis: how self-esteem and stress act as mechanisms between negative parental bonds and alcohol-related problems in emerging adulthood

Addict Behav. 2012 Apr;37(4):477-84. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.12.012. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


The stress dampening model (Marlatt, 1987; Sayette, 1993; Sher, 1987) suggests certain individuals may use alcohol to escape from their negative life experiences. Pathological reasons for drinking (e.g., using alcohol as a means to cope) reflect the degree to which individuals are motivated to use alcohol in order to dampen or alleviate the stress they are experiencing (Johnson, Schwitters, Wilson, Nagoshi, & McClearn, 1985). Direct and mediational links among parental bonds (rejection, care, overprotection, autonomy, and neglect), self-esteem, stress, pathological reasons for drinking, and alcohol-related problems were explored. A Structural Equation Model with (405 students; 164 women, 241 men) college students was examined. Three path mediational analyses revealed several mediated pathways. Greater feelings of perceived father/mother neglectfulness (i.e., offspring feeling parents do not show up for them) were indirectly linked to more alcohol-related problems (e.g., indicative of alcohol use or dependence in emerging adulthood) through increased stress and pathological reasons for drinking. Furthermore, higher levels of father rejection (i.e., perception of feeling unwanted) were indirectly linked to more pathological reasons for drinking through low self-esteem and increased stress. However, greater feelings of mother care (affectionate and attentive) were indirectly linked to fewer pathological reasons for drinking through higher self-esteem and lower levels of stress. Moreover, high self-esteem was found to be indirectly linked to fewer alcohol-related problems through decreased stress and pathological reasons for drinking. These findings suggest several specific pathways for using alcohol to self-medicate (i.e., consume alcohol for a specific purpose) or dampen feelings of stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Motivation
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Paternal Behavior / psychology
  • Perception
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult