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JOURNAL ARTICLE

PTSD Symptoms, Emotion Dysregulation, and Alcohol-Related Consequences Among College Students With a Trauma History

Jessica C Tripp, Meghan E McDevitt-Murphy, Megan L Avery, Katherine L Bracken
Journal of Dual Diagnosis 2015, 11 (2): 107-17
25793550

OBJECTIVE: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol use, and alcohol-related consequences have been linked to emotion dysregulation. Sex differences exist in both emotion regulation dimensions and alcohol use patterns. This investigation examined facets of emotion dysregulation as potential mediators of the relationship between PTSD symptoms and alcohol-related consequences and whether differences may exist across sexes.

METHODS: Participants were 240 college students with a trauma history who reported using alcohol within the past three months and completed measures of PTSD symptoms, emotion dysregulation, alcohol consumption, alcohol-related consequences, and negative affect. The six facets of emotion dysregulation were examined as mediators of the relationship between PTSD symptoms and alcohol-related consequences in the full sample and by sex.

RESULTS: There were differences in sexes on several variables, with women reporting higher PTSD scores and lack of emotional awareness. Men reported significantly more drinks per week in a typical week and a heavy week. There were significant associations between the variables for the full sample, with PTSD showing associations with five facets of emotion dysregulation subscales: impulse control difficulties when upset, difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, nonacceptance of emotional responses, lack of emotional clarity, and limited access to emotion regulation strategies. Alcohol-related consequences were associated with four aspects of emotion dysregulation: impulse control difficulties when upset, difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, nonacceptance of emotional responses, and limited access to emotion regulation strategies. Two aspects of emotion regulation, impulse control difficulties and difficulties engaging in goal directed behavior, mediated the relationship between PTSD symptoms and alcohol-related consequences in the full sample, even after adjusting for the effects of negative affect. When examined separately by gender, impulse control difficulties remained a mediator for men and difficulties engaging in goal directed behavior for women.

CONCLUSIONS: These analyses shed light on processes that may underlie "self-medication" of PTSD symptoms. Gender-specific interventions targeting emotion dysregulation may be effective in reducing alcohol-related consequences in individuals with PTSD. Women may possibly benefit from interventions that focus on difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, while men may benefit from interventions that target impulse control difficulties when upset.

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