Racial/Ethnic Discrimination, Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms, and Alcohol Problems in a Longitudinal Study of Hispanic/Latino College Students

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Racial/ethnic discrimination has been identified as a risk factor in the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in persons of color (Carter, 2007). Many persons, regardless of race/ethnicity, with PTSD symptoms resulting from combat, violent crimes, sexual assault, or natural disasters use alcohol in an attempt to cope. This longitudinal study surveyed 203 Hispanic/Latino students twice at approximately a 1-year interval, and used a cross-lagged design to compare Time 1 links from alcohol use and experiences of discrimination with the same variables at Time 2, plus symptoms of PTSD. Each survey included the General Ethnic Discrimination scale and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Only Time 2 packets contained the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist–Civilian. Cross-lagged analyses conducted by comparing nested structural equation models found that fixing the causal paths to zero from Time 1 experiences of discrimination to Time 2 alcohol problems and PTSD resulted in a significantly worse fit of the data. However, fixing the paths to zero from Time 1 maladaptive alcohol use to Time 2 PTSD and experiences of discrimination resulted in no significant difference in model fit. Thus, this pattern of findings is consistent with an inference that Hispanic/Latino college students who experience racial/ethnic discrimination are at risk for developing symptoms of posttraumatic stress and increased maladaptive alcohol use; conversely, maladaptive alcohol use does not appear to be a risk factor for later experiences of discrimination or PTSD symptoms.

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