Risk pathways among traumatic stress, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and alcohol and drug problems: A test of four hypotheses

Moira Haller, Laurie Chassin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


The present study utilized longitudinal data from a community sample (n = 377; 166 trauma-exposed; 54% males; 73% non-Hispanic Caucasian; 22% Hispanic; 5% other ethnicity) to test whether pretrauma substance use problems increase risk for trauma exposure (high-risk hypothesis) or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms (susceptibility hypothesis), whether PTSD symptoms increase risk for later alcohol/drug problems (self-medication hypothesis), and whether the association between PTSD symptoms and alcohol/drug problems is attributable to shared risk factors (shared vulnerability hypothesis). Logistic and negative binomial regressions were performed in a path analysis framework. Results provided the strongest support for the self-medication hypothesis, such that PTSD symptoms predicted higher levels of later alcohol and drug problems, over and above the influences of pretrauma family risk factors, pretrauma substance use problems, trauma exposure, and demographic variables. Results partially supported the high-risk hypothesis, such that adolescent substance use problems increased risk for assaultive violence exposure but did not influence overall risk for trauma exposure. There was no support for the susceptibility hypothesis. Finally, there was little support for the shared vulnerability hypothesis. Neither trauma exposure nor preexisting family adversity accounted for the link between PTSD symptoms and later substance use problems. Rather, PTSD symptoms mediated the effect of pretrauma family adversity on later alcohol and drug problems, thereby supporting the self-medication hypothesis. These findings make important contributions to better understanding the directions of influence among traumatic stress, PTSD symptoms, and substance use problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-851
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology of Addictive Behaviors
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Comorbidity
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Self-medication
  • Substance use disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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