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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986 Sep;51(3):564-77.

Life events and substance use among adolescents: mediating effects of perceived loss of control and meaninglessness in life.


Throughout history, alcohol and other drugs have been used to provide relief in times of stress and frustration. Research has confirmed this association between disruptive life change events and substance use. It was hypothesized that two psychological constructs facilitate and mediate this relation between stress and substance use. Uncontrollable stress (negative life change events) was assumed to create a sense of loss of control, which in turn engendered a decreased level of meaning in life. This meaninglessness in life, experienced as distressful and uncomfortable, is then treated or medicated with various drug substances. This theoretical sequential model was tested in two separate studies with independent samples of adolescents (one sample collected by the Rutgers University and the other collected by the University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]) using latent variable structural models. The Rutgers sample was cross-sectional, whereas the UCLA sample provided longitudinal data. Results supported the theoretical hypothesis that Perceived Loss of Control and Meaninglessness mediate the relation between Uncontrollable Stress and Substance Use. In the Rutgers data, the association between stress and drug use was clearly accounted for by the mediating constructs; in other words, no direct path was necessary to explain the relation between stress and general drug use. However, in the UCLA data there remained a direct influence of Uncontrollable Stress on Substance Use after accounting for the significant impact of the mediating constructs. Five other competing models were tested; four were rejected empirically, and the other was accepted, although it was less theoretically based than the mediational model.

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