Depression, posttraumatic stress, and alcohol misuse in young adult veterans: The transdiagnostic role of distress tolerance

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016 Apr 1;161:348-55. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.02.030. Epub 2016 Feb 27.


Background: Alcohol misuse is common among young adult veterans, and is commonly associated with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, rates of comorbid depression, PTSD, and problem drinking are high in this population. Although distress tolerance, the capacity to experience and withstand negative psychological states, has been examined as a potential transdiagnostic factor that accounts for the development of mental health disorders, problem drinking, and the comorbidity between these presenting concerns, its role has not been evaluated in a veteran population.

Methods: Young adult veterans were recruited for an online survey related to alcohol use. Participants (n=783) completed self-report measures of alcohol use, depression and PTSD symptoms, and distress tolerance. Mediation models were conducted to examine whether distress tolerance mediated the relationship between (1) probable PTSD, (2) probable depression, and (3) comorbid probable PTSD and depression with alcohol misuse. Moderated mediation models were conducted to examine gender as a moderator.

Results: Significant bivariate associations were observed among mental health symptoms, distress tolerance, and alcohol misuse. Distress tolerance significantly mediated the relationship between probable depression and PTSD (both alone and in combination) and alcohol misuse. Evidence of moderated mediation was present for probable PTSD and probable comorbid PTSD and depression, such that the indirect effect was stronger among males.

Conclusions: These results suggest that distress tolerance may be a transdiagnostic factor explaining the comorbidity of depression and PTSD with alcohol misuse in young adult veterans. These findings may inform screening and intervention efforts with this high-risk population.

Keywords: Alcohol misuse; Depression; Distress tolerance; Mediation; PTSD; Veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Young Adult