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Coping Strategies, PTSD Symptoms, Substance Abuse, and Life Satisfaction: A Working Model


The present research focused on understanding the roles of coping strategy (avoidant, problem solving, and support seeking) and trauma history in predicting Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and life satisfaction. Exposure to traumatic events is common in the general population, and lifetime prevalence rates for PTSD are relatively high and are estimated at 8.7% among adults in the United States. Although the psychological impact of highly stressful events can be considerable, the development of PTSD profoundly affects the individual’s overall quality of life.

Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to investigate the relation between coping strategy, trauma history, PTSD symptoms, and life satisfaction. To decrease measurement error, latent variables were created for PTSD symptoms and life satisfaction. Both the main effects and interactions associated with coping strategy and trauma history were investigated. Three separate SEM models were constructed to investigate avoidant, problem solving, and support seeking coping strategies, which have been shown to be temporally stable traits.

To investigate the hypothesized model in a non-clinical sample, completed data from 326 participants were analyzed. Two separate subsamples were targeted and included community members and college students. Community members were approached at a large shopping center and college students were approached on campus. All participants received an incentive, which included gift certificates, cash, or course credit immediately after completion of the research assessments.

Bivariate analyses failed to support two separate subsamples in terms of demographics, coping strategies, or trauma history; therefore, one combined sample was used for analyses. The demographics of the combined sample were much more similar to the demographics associated with college students than community members.

Overall, 80.1% of participants reported at least one exposure to a wide variety of traumatic events. Hypotheses regarding coping strategies in this sample, which was largely comprised of college students, were not supported. Both problem solving and support seeking coping strategies failed to significantly predict PTSD symptoms. Even more surprising was that in this sample avoidant coping actually predicted a decrease in PTSD symptoms. Results indicated that participants who experienced high levels of traumatic events benefited from a greater reduction in PTSD symptoms compared to those who had experienced low levels of traumatic events.

In all three coping strategies, an increased trauma history predicted a significant increase in PTSD symptoms, and an increase in PTSD symptoms predicted an even greater decrease in life satisfaction. In addition, an increase in trauma history actually predicted a small increase in life satisfaction when not mediated by PTSD symptoms. This indicated that in this sample exposure to traumatic events slightly increased life satisfaction when individuals did not experience adverse affects associated with the exposure. Also unexpected was the finding that avoidant coping predicted a slight increase in life satisfaction while support seeking predicted a slight decrease in life satisfaction.

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