Opioid Abuse as Maladaptive Coping to Life Stressors in U.S. Adults

Helen M. Hendy, Pamela Black, S. Hakan Can, Alicia Fleischut, Damla Aksen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The Threat Appraisal and Coping Theory suggests that when individuals face life stressors, especially if they have poor self-esteem, they may rely on maladaptive coping behaviors that ease distress but worsen their condition over time. The present study compared five life stressors (health, money, work, family, romance) for their association with opioid use, then examined poor self-esteem as a mediator of these associations. Study participants included 1,047 U.S. adults gathered in a quota sample by SurveyMonkey (54.3% women; 53.3% 45+ years of age; 76.7% White; 60.2% with US$50,000 or higher income; 11.1% using opioids). Participants completed online surveys to report demographics, five life stressors, self-esteem, and indications of opioid use as measured with the PROMIS Questionnaire. Pearson correlation found poor self-esteem associated with high opioid use; multiple regression found health, family, and romance stressors associated with high opioid use (R2 =.089); and multiple regression found health, money, family, and romance stressors associated with poor self-esteem (R2 =.283). Then, bootstrapping mediational analyses examined the sequence of HIGH LIFE STRESSORS → POOR SELF-ESTEEM → HIGH OPIOID USE, finding that poor self-esteem was a significant mediator between each life stressor (health, money, family, romance) and increased risk for opioid use. The present sample included mostly individuals with a White ethnic identity and high incomes, so future research should examine these patterns with more diverse samples. In addition, the amount of opioids consumed, present motivations for use, the sequence of events leading to present use, exposure to substance-abuse treatment, and where individuals presently are on the use-recovery process could moderate associations found between life stressors and opioid use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)560-571
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Drug Issues
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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