Cognitive Coping Moderates the Association between Violent
Victimization by Peers and Substance Use among Adolescents
Sonya S. Brady,1PHD, Jeanne M. Tschann,2PHD, Lauri A. Pasch,2PHD, Elena Flores,3PHD,
and Emily J. Ozer,4PHD
1Division of Epidemiology & Community Health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health,
2Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco,3School of Education, University of
San Francisco, and4School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley
and tobacco use among adolescents, and whether adaptive coping styles moderated associations.
MethodsA total of 247 urban Mexican-American and European-American adolescents aged 16–20 years
were interviewed. ResultsIndependent of demographics and violent perpetration, adolescents victimized
by violence reported greater alcohol and tobacco use. Adolescents who engaged in higher levels of behavioral
coping (e.g., problem solving) reported less substance use, independent of violence variables. Interaction effects
showed that violent victimization was associated with greater substance use only among adolescents who
engaged in lower levels of cognitive coping (e.g., focusing on positive aspects of life). Substance use was
relatively low among adolescents who engaged in higher levels of cognitive coping, regardless of whether
they had been victimized.ConclusionsEnhancement of cognitive coping skills may prevent engagement
in substance use as a stress response to violent victimization.
This study tested whether violent victimization by peers was associated with alcohol
Key wordsadolescence; coping; substance use; stress; violence.
National estimates suggest that 20–30% of youth experi-
ence violent victimization by peers, such as physical assault
or attack with a weapon (Slovak & Singer, 2002; Stein,
Jaycox, Kataoka, Rhodes, & Vestal, 2003). Although
much of the literature has focused on peer violence
within impoverished, inner-city communities, these rates
are typical of urban, suburban, and rural communities
(Slovak & Singer, 2002; Stein et al., 2003). Violent victi-
mization may have consequences other than physical
injury among youth, including posttraumatic stress and
depression (Gorman-Smith & Tolan, 1998; Ozer &
Weinstein, 2004). Adolescents who have been victimized
by violence are also more likely to engage in alcohol and
tobacco use, initiate substance use early, engage in more
frequent use, and become substance use dependent
(Ellickson, Saner, & McGuigan, 1997; Schwab-Stone et
al., 1995). Studies on peer violence and substance use
have included nationally representative (Kilpatrick et al.,
2000) and predominantly African-American urban samples
of youth (Albus, Weist, & Perez-Smith, 2004; Sullivan,
Farrell, & Kliewer, 2006), as well as relatively understudied
ethnic minority subgroups such as Central-American
(Kliewer et al., 2006) and Mexican-American youth
Associations between substance use and both violent vic-
timization (Brady, Tschann, Pasch, Flores, & Ozer, in
press) and violent perpetration (Brady et al., in press;
White, Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Farrington, 1999)
are bidirectional, suggesting that substance use may both
be a response to violence involvement and place adoles-
cents at risk for further violence involvement.
According to stress-coping theory, a stressor will not
negatively impact individuals who possess resources to
adequately cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). To our
knowledge, no studies have examined coping as a modera-
tor of the association between violent victimization and
substance use among adolescents. Some studies suggest
that adaptive coping may protect youth from broadly
All correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sonya S. Brady, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of
Epidemiology & Community Health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, 1300 South Second Street,
Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journal of Pediatric Psychology 34(3) pp. 304–310, 2009
Advance Access publication July 31, 2008
Journal of Pediatric Psychology vol. 34 no. 3 ? The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Pediatric Psychology.
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