Investigating Relationships Among Distress Tolerance, PTSD Symptom Severity, and Alcohol Use

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Exposure to trauma (particularly interpersonal trauma), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and low distress tolerance (DT; the ability to tolerate negative internal states), are all related to risk for alcohol use disorders (AUD). The aim of this study was to examine the main and interactive effects of PTSD symptom severity and DT in relation to current (past 30-day) alcohol consumption and binge drinking among emerging adult men and women with a history of sexual/physical assault. Participants were 572 undergraduate students (66% women) with a history of physical/sexual assault endorsing past month alcohol use. Participants completed the Distress Tolerance Scale (DTS), the PTSD Checklist for DSM-V (PCL-5), and an abbreviated Timeline Followback Questionnaire (TLFB), which assessed past 30-day total alcohol consumption (i.e., total number of drinks) and binge drinking frequency (i.e., 5+ drinks [4+ for women]). Negative binomial regression analyses revealed that male sex, higher trauma load (i.e., total number of trauma categories endorsed), and higher PTSD symptom severity were associated with both higher number of total drinks and higher frequency of binge drinking episodes. However, DT was not associated with either alcohol outcome when PTSD symptom severity was entered in the models. The interaction of PTSD symptom severity and DT was not significantly associated with total alcohol consumption or binge drinking. These results highlight the importance of investigating the unique contributions of PTSD symptoms and DT (as well as other transdiagnostic cognitive-affective constructs) in the onset and maintenance of AUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-270
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Alcohol
  • Distress tolerance
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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