Child abuse exposure, emotion regulation, and drinking refusal self-efficacy: an analysis of problem drinking in college students

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2015 Mar;41(2):188-96. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2014.998365.


Background: Problem drinking in college is a longstanding problem with potentially severe consequences. More recently, problem drinking has been linked to emotion regulation difficulties. However, these results are mixed and emphasize the need to examine moderating variables that may strengthen the problem drinking/emotion regulation relationship. Two such variables are child/adolescent sexual abuse (CASA) and drinking refusal self-efficacy (DRSE).

Objectives: The current study hypothesized that the relations between emotion regulation difficulties and problem drinking would be most salient for college students with increased CASA exposure and decreased DRSE. Secondary analyses examined the hypothesis taking into consideration cumulative child/adolescent trauma exposure.

Methods: Undergraduate students (n = 200) completed a large survey battery for course credit.

Results: Three-way interactions across the CASA and cumulative trauma models were significant and in a similar direction. RESULTS indicated that for students without trauma exposure, problem drinking was the greatest for those with decreased DRSE and increased emotion regulation difficulties. As trauma exposure increased, problem drinking was the greatest for those with decreased DRSE and decreased emotion regulation difficulties (or superior perceived regulatory abilities).

Conclusion: Discussion highlights the importance of considering DRSE and the possibility of reduced insight in trauma-exposed students, who may perceive alcohol use as an adaptive regulatory strategy.

Keywords: Child abuse; college; drinking refusal self-efficacy; early life stress; emotion regulation; problem drinking; sexual abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Self-Control
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities
  • Young Adult