Coping-motivated escalations in adolescent alcohol problems following early adversity

Psychol Addict Behav. 2023 Mar;37(2):331-340. doi: 10.1037/adb0000788. Epub 2021 Oct 7.


Objective: The present study examined whether early stressful events precipitate drinking risks across adolescence and whether coping-motivated drinking mediates such relations.

Method: Families comprised 387 adolescents (55% female, 83% White) recruited for a longitudinal study. Caregivers reported on adolescents' experience of potentially stressful events, including conflict (i.e., disruption of harmonious family relations) and separation (i.e., decreased contact with important persons) events, over the past year when adolescents were approximately 14 years of age. Adolescents reported on their drinking motives, alcohol use, and alcohol problems annually from 18 to 20 years of age. Growth curve models tested associations of stressful events with latent coping and enhancement/social drinking motives growth factors and subsequent alcohol outcomes.

Results: Most adolescents experienced at least one potentially stressful event. Growth modeling suggested no change in coping motives, but increases in enhancement/social motives over time. Greater conflict events predicted higher frequency of drinking for coping reasons (i.e., coping intercept), which in turn predicted increases in alcohol problems as adolescents began transitioning into young adulthood. Conflict, separation, or total stressful events were not significantly associated with initial level or change in enhancement/social motives, suggesting specificity of mediation by coping-motivated drinking.

Conclusions: Findings support enduring elevations in drinking risk over 6 years following disruptive family relations in early adolescence. Such risks appear to be driven by negative affect regulation mechanisms through coping-motivated drinking. Future work should assess generalizability of these findings across diverse samples and could test similar negative reinforcement mechanisms of drinking following exposure to clinically impairing traumatic experiences. Public Health Significance Statement: This study demonstrated that disruptive family relations in early adolescence are linked to greater motivation to drink to cope with negative affect up to 6 years later. Greater coping motives, in turn, were related to increases in alcohol problems over time, even when controlling for alcohol consumption. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking* / epidemiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Young Adult