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Coping motives as a mediator of the relationship between child maltreatment and substance use problems in south African adolescents.

BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that adults with a history of child maltreatment (CM) engage in substance misuse driven by 'coping motives': maladaptive beliefs that substances help them cope with negative emotions. However, the specificity of this risk pathway is under-researched in younger and non-Western cohorts.

OBJECTIVE: The present study aimed to determine whether coping motives play a distinct role compared to other motives for substance use in mediating the relationship between CM and problematic alcohol and marijuana use in a sample of South African adolescents.

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: A sample of 688 high school students (M age = 15.03 years; 62.5 % female) in Cape Town, South Africa, completed a cross sectional survey.

METHODS: Participants completed self-report measures of CM exposure, motives for using alcohol and marijuana (coping, enhancement, social and conformity), and alcohol and marijuana related problems. Participants who endorsed using alcohol (N = 180) or marijuana (N = 136) were included in analysis. A parallel mediation model was conducted for each substance (alcohol and marijuana, respectively) to assess which motives mediated the relationship between CM exposure and substance-related problems.

RESULTS: CM exposure predicted both alcohol-and marijuana related problems. The relationship between CM exposure and alcohol-related problems was partially mediated by coping motives (p < .001, 95%CI 0.028, 0.115) and, to a lesser extent, conformity motives (p < .01, 95%CI 0.001, 0.041), but not by social motives or enhancement motives. The relationship between CM exposure and marijuana-related problems was partially mediated by coping motives (p < .001, 95%CI 0.004, 0.037), but not by conformity, social or enhancement motives.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings support the importance of coping motives as a mediator between CM and problematic substance use across different substances of abuse in South African adolescents, and the role of conformity motives in problematic alcohol use. Future research should explore whether these findings hold across other sociocultural contexts, and the utility of interventions to address coping motives for substance use in adolescence.

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