Graduation Date

Summer 2019

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Psychology, option Academic Research

Committee Chair Name

Dr. Tasha R. Howe

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Dr. Sangwon Kim

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Dr. William M. Reynolds

Third Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories



Recent substance use reports indicate a rise in use-related deaths. Emerging adults are identified as the most prevalent users of substances when compared to other age groups. Current intervention methods are not universally effective, with relapse rates varying by treatment model. The poor efficacy of interventions may be due to a lack of models using a developmental focus. For example, previous research highlights the influence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on negative adult outcomes such as excessive substance use. ACEs may trigger a cascade of adaptation failures, disrupting attachment bonds between caregiver and child, and later influencing the development of emotion regulation skills. Therefore, it can be argued that treatment should focus on such stage-salient developmental tasks.

The present study examined the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and substance use in a sample of 182 emerging adults. Participants accessed the study online via SurveyMonkey. It was expected that higher ACE scores would be associated with greater substance use (frequency and number of substances used). Additionally, it was hypothesized that attachment quality and emotion regulation would serve as possible developmental mechanisms underlying this relationship. The current study also explored the possible association between ACE scores and the specific emotion regulation strategies of expression and suppression.

Consistent with previous research, male participants reported higher levels of attachment avoidance, substance use frequency, and number of substances used than females. ACE scores were higher for persons of color, and they utilized expressive suppression to regulate emotions more than White/European-American participants did. Surprisingly, there was no relationship between ACE scores and substance use outcomes in the current sample. However, higher ACE scores were related to higher use of painkillers (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, etc.) and sedatives (e.g., Xanax, Valium, sleeping pills, etc.). The current study is one of the first to examine separate and specific substances beyond alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana in an emerging adult sample.

To our knowledge, this is also one of the first studies to examine ACE scores in relation to specific emotion regulation strategies, finding that higher cumulative ACE scores predicted the use of expressive suppression. Though mediation analyses could not be performed due to sample size and lack of significant relationships between ACEs and substance use outcomes, results highlight the links between ACEs, adult emotion regulation and use of specific substances. Specifically, participants who reported higher ACE scores were more likely to utilize expressive suppression to regulate emotions and to more frequently use painkillers and sedatives. Future research should continue to explore developmental markers as foci for substance use intervention to support improvements in current treatment models.

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