How Do Teens’ Emotions, Coping Skills Predict Drug Use?
Emotion regulation skills are the skills that people rely on to process their emotions and control their reactions to both everyday circumstances and extraordinarily stressful circumstances. Broadly speaking, people who lack fully developed forms of these skills have increased risks for getting involved in drug use and eventually developing significant drug-related problems. In a study published in September 2013 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from four U.S. institutions examined the interaction between emotion regulation and drug-related risks on a more detailed level. These researchers identified specific emotion-processing styles that can boost or lower a person’s chances of using and abusing drugs.
Range Of Emotions And Emotion Regulation
All healthy human beings experience a range of emotions. Some of these emotions, commonly referred to as positive emotions, tend to support a sense of well-being and increase a person’s ability to interact well with others and maintain a fruitful daily routine. Examples of emotions commonly viewed as positive include love, joy, interest, hope, gratitude and certain forms of pride. Other emotions, commonly referred to as negative emotions, tend to destabilize a sense of well-being, decrease the quality of a person’s social interactions and make it more difficult to establish an effective routine. Examples of emotions commonly viewed as negative include hatred, anger, jealousy, sadness, helplessness and hopelessness.
Despite the rudimentary labeling of these various emotional states, healthy individuals typically experience a mixture of “positive” and “negative” emotions, and benefit from both in appropriate settings. Emotion regulation is the process that allows people to do such things as analyze their current emotional states, consciously or unconsciously make decisions to change their emotional states, integrate their emotions and thoughts, and use emotions to guide or modify behavior. However, not all people successfully use the regulation process to deal with their emotions in healthy ways. Instead, when they feel strong emotions (especially negative emotions), they lose the ability to control their reactions and enter a state called emotional dysregulation.
Emotional Dysregulation’s Impact On Mood
As a result of their problems with emotional control, people affected by emotional dysregulation develop a form of mood instability that manifests in two main ways. First, they experience unusual and erratic shifts between emotional states (i.e., mood swings), especially states that don’t normally appear together in a short span of time. Emotionally dysregulated individuals also tend to experience unusually intensified forms of emotion that appear out of context for a given situation.
Emotional Dysregulation’s Impact On Drug Use
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the University of Southern California, Drexel University, Temple University and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles examined the connection between emotional regulation abilities and drug use risks among teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25. They performed this examination by interviewing 560 people in this age group with a recent history of abusing prescription drugs such as opioid painkillers and sedative-hypnotic medications. The interviews also contained questions designed to identify the use of illegal/illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The researchers decided to conduct their study because of the lack of available information on the connection between emotional coping styles and drug use patterns in the targeted age group.
Four Styles Of Emotion Regulation And Those Who Are More Likely To Use Drugs
After examining their data, the researchers found that the study participants had four distinct styles of emotion regulation: a suppressing style designed to avoid dealing with strong emotions; a coping style that relies on the intervention of others for its effectiveness; a coping style that relies on self-generated efforts; and a proactive style that seeks to change the situations that produce stress or unpleasant emotional states. They also found that two of these styles—emotional suppression and reliance on others to deal with strong emotions—are clearly associated with increased risks for developing dangerous patterns of prescription or illicit/illegal drug use. By comparison, people with a proactive style of emotion regulation, in particular, have relatively low risks for participating in these drug use patterns.
Hope For Future Treatments To Prevent Drug Abuse
The authors of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence believe they are one of the first research teams to demonstrate that the use of certain emotional coping styles can increase any given individual’s chances of developing significant drug problems. They also believe that their work can form the basis for future research that ultimately provides a real-world improvement in the ability to treat and prevent drug abuse and drug addiction in teenagers and young adults.
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