Trauma-Related Drinking to Cope: A Novel Approach to the Self-Medication Model

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Multiple etiological models have been proposed to explain posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) comorbidity, but the predominant model to date is the “drinking to cope” self-medication model. Despite its popularity, the self-medication model lacks rigorous empirical support related to inconsistencies and methodological limitations, particularly the failure to operationalize drinking to cope with trauma symptoms specifically. The present study sought to measure trauma-related drinking to cope (TRD) in order to provide a more specific test of the self-medication model among a representative sample of 1,896 undergraduates with a history of trauma exposure and alcohol use. Using a model-building approach in Mplus, a correlated multiple mediator model tested the association between PTSD symptoms and alcohol use problems (AUPs) through TRD and more generalized drinking to cope motives (as assessed by the coping subscale of the Drinking Motives Questionnaire; DMQ-Cope) as moderated by sex. Results indicated that, while accounting for the effects of generalized drinking to cope motives, TRD partially mediated the relation between PTSD symptoms and AUPs and that this relationship was stronger for males than for females. With the exception of moderation by sex, results were substantiated using longitudinal data. Findings were consistent with the self-medication model, suggesting that TRD motives may serve as a mechanism through which PTSD symptoms influence AUPs. TRD may serve as a more specific screening tool for AUP risk among individuals endorsing PTSD symptoms compared with the commonly used DMQ-Cope.

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