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Emotion Regulation and Protective Behavioral Strategies in College Student Substance Use Behaviors

Previous research has found links between protective behavioral strategy use and substance related outcomes in college students. However, a recent study was the first to examine the relationship between specific emotion regulation strategies, use of protective behavioral strategies, and alcohol and cannabis related problems.

In this study, over 600 undergraduate students completed online surveys. These surveys included the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ), substance use screenings, use of protective behavioral strategies, and substance related problems. Only students who reported lifetime alcohol or cannabis use were included in the data. Specifically, the protective strategies observed were reappraisal and suppression. The ERQ measured students’ likelihood to rethink an emotional situation they are faced with (reappraisal) as well as how they may suppress emotions.

The results indicated that reappraisal was negatively linked to past two-week bingeing within males, and positively associated with use of protective behavioral strategies within females. Suppression was also negatively related to past 2 week binge drinking and positively predicted alcohol specific harm reduction strategies in males. Across males and females, use of protective behavioral strategies and flexibility to use appropriate emotional regulation strategies at different times were related to lower incidence of negative substance related problems. These results indicate that emotion regulation plays a complex role in substance use outcomes in college students, and that there are differences between impact of emotion on males and females.

Take Away: Students who exhibit reappraisal and suppression as emotion regulation strategies are likely to use protective behavioral strategies when using substances (females) and are less likely to engage in binge drinking.

Blanchard, B.E., Atevens, A., CAnn, A.T., Littlefield, A.K. (2019). Regulate yourself: Emotion regulation and protective behavioral strategies in substance use behaviors. Addictive Behaviors. doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.12.020

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