College Student Regulation Emotion Regulation Strategies and Substance Abuse

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It is well known that a large percentage of college students use alcohol and marijuana regularly. But how are emotion regulation strategies related to substance use? Is there a connection?

Emotion regulation strategies are used by individuals to cope with emotional experiences. There are many different types of emotion regulation strategies, but this study focused on four:

  1. Distraction: turning one’s attention to something other than the emotional experience
  2. Reappraisal: interpreting the situation positively
  3. Problem-solving: working to alter or reduce the situation and its negative effects
  4. Avoidance: escaping the emotional experience

The first three strategies (distraction, reappraisal, and problem-solving) are considered adaptive strategies because they normally produce better outcomes. However, avoidance is considered a maladaptive strategy because it typically produces poorer outcomes.

In this daily diary study, researchers at the University of Connecticut investigated whether or not these emotion regulation strategies impacted evening substance use when applied during the day. They also analyzed whether or not evening substance use impacted next-day emotion regulation strategies.

Over the course of 30 days, 1640 college students answered online daily diary surveys regarding emotion regulation strategies, alcohol use, marijuana use, and alcohol and marijuana co-use. After assessing the data with multilevel modeling, they found…

  • Distraction, reappraisal, and problem solving predicted a lower likelihood of marijuana use in the evening
  • Heavy drinking and marijuana use in the evening predicted a lower likelihood of problem-solving the next day
  • Evening heavy drinking predicted a greater likelihood of next-day avoidance
  • Evening marijuana use predicted a greater likelihood of next-day reappraisal

This study provides initial evidence suggesting a negative relationship between emotion regulation strategies and substance use. Although more research is needed, this relationship could be a potential treatment for substance use and/or emotion regulation deficits.

 

Weiss, N. H., Bold, K. W., Sullivan, T. P., Armeli, S., & Tennen, H. (2016). Testing bidirectional associations among emotion regulation strategies and substance use: a daily diary study. Addiction.