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Differential Pathways of Risky Drinking Via Coping Motives in College and Noncollege Young Adults

Among college-aged adults, nonstudent drinkers are more likely to experience alcohol related harms and develop alcohol use disorder in adulthood compared to college students. Drinking to cope with negative emotions is one major factor contributing to problematic drinking. Many have wondered if coping motives are impacted by one’s personal background and educational status. Perceived stress, psychological distress, and self-regulation may also impact alcohol use and alcohol-related consequences through drinking to cope motivations. This study examines the relationship between psychological functioning and risky drinking through a drinking to cope pathway among college and noncollege young adults.  

The study’s sample consisted of 623 young adults age 18-25 who reported alcohol use within the past month. Participants were asked to report number of drinks consumed each day of the week over the last three months. Past year alcohol-related problems, past year psychological distress, past month perceived stress, and self-regulation were also assessed. Lastly, the Drinking Motives Questionnaire was used to assess propensity for drinking to cope. Data was analyzed using a multigroup path analysis.  

Results of the data analysis showed that for nonstudents, psychological distress was correlated with greater coping motives which in turn was associated with greater alcohol use outcomes. In addition, the positive effects of self-regulation on alcohol quantity, binge drinking frequency, and alcohol-related problems were mediated by coping motives.  For college students, psychological distress was correlated with greater coping motives which in turn was associated with greater alcohol related consequences. In addition, the positive effects of self-regulation on binge drinking frequency was mediated by coping motives. Among the full sample, coping motives served as a significant mediator between the effect of perceived stress on binge drinking frequency.   

Takeaway: Psychological distress and self-regulation may impact alcohol use through coping-motivated drinking among college students and noncollege young adults.  

Lau-Barraco, C., Stamates, A.L., Ehlke, S.J., Glenn, D.J.. Differential pathways of risky drinking via coping motives in college and noncollege young adults. Addiction Research & Theory. 2022;1-0. Doi: 10.1080/16066359.2022.2127693 

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