Relationship between childhood abuse and substance misuse problems is mediated by substance use coping motives, in school attending South African adolescents

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Aims: In adults, it has been shown that the relationship between childhood abuse and substance misuse problems is mediated by the belief that substance use helps cope with negative affective states. By contrast, in adolescents, it is unknown whether drug use coping motives play this same mediating role.

Methods: Secondary analysis of 1149 school attending adolescents in Cape Town South Africa (average age = 16.24 years, range = 13 – 23; 60% females). Questionnaire measures obtained during a single test session (among a larger battery) assessed childhood trauma (CTQ), alcohol (AUDIT) and drug problems (DUDIT), and coping orientation (A-COPE) which contained three items assessing drug use to cope with negative affect.

Results: The three types of childhood abuse measured by the CTQ  –  emotional, physical and sexual  –  were positively associated with greater alcohol/drug problems, and drug use coping motives. Drug use coping motives mediated the relationships between childhood abuse types and alcohol/drug problems, and these mediational pathways remained significant when gender and other subscales of the A-COPE were included as covariates.

Conclusions: These data are preliminary insofar as drug use coping motives were assessed with a non-validated subscale of the A-COPE. Nevertheless, drug use to cope with negative affect mediated the relationship between all three types of childhood abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) and alcohol/drug problems in school attending adolescents. The implication is that drug prevention programs for this age group should seek to mitigate drug use coping motives.


Dr. Lindi Martin and Prof. Soraya Seedat Department of Psychiatry Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Conflicts of interest:

No conflict of interest


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Dr Lee Hogarth