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Date of Award
Thesis (On-Campus Access Only)
Master of Science in Psychology
Susan Tinsley Li, PhD
Throughout the existing literature on factors associated with increased risk of
illicit drug and alcohol use among young people, the focus has mainly been on the
adolescent's environment and family characteristics. This literature review examines the
personal and social correlates of the individual, specifically among the emerging adult
population, to see if there is an increased or decreased risk for substance abuse associated
with loneliness, parental attachment, autonomy, and self-esteem.
Conclusions from this review indicate that all four correlates have an impact on a
young adult's life. Attachment styles identified in infancy carryover to adulthood,
loneliness affects many emerging adults, the search for autonomy continues during the
period of emerging adulthood, and self-esteem remains a determinant of psychological
well-being. Parental attachment has been found to be a protective factor for substance use
whereas attachment to a deviant peer can have an inverse effect. Studies found that
higher levels of parental attachment are positively correlated with higher levels of selfesteem,
which in turn are negatively correlated with deviant behavior. So the more selfesteem
a person possesses, the less deviant behavior and consequently the less substance
abuse are exhibited.
Furthermore, research indicates that self-esteem plays a very important role in an
individual's health and well-being, and is a key predictor of increased substance abuse
problems. When looking at the current research as it pertains to the correlates of
loneliness and autonomy, it has been found that substance use is quite often closely
related to feelings of loneliness. Young adults with autonomy and connectedness
have higher levels of self-esteem, lower levels of loneliness and higher adaptive
functioning which are all negatively correlated with substance abuse. From these
findings, it appears that a young adult with high autonomy and a positive parental
attachment relationship will probably have high self-esteem, experience less loneliness,
and will also have a lower chance of abusing alcohol or drugs.
Within the current literature base, there is substantial empirical research on the
relations between self-esteem, attachment, and substance abuse. In contrast, there seems
to be a deficit in the research for both autonomy and loneliness as they relate to substance
use in emerging adults. Supplementary research looking at the vast number of operational
and conceptual definitions of autonomy may be helpful for advancing the extant literature
in this area. This current literature review is a good starting point for investigating how
specific social and personal correlates relate, interact, and ultimately impact emerging
adults' substance use. Further research is needed to improve the overall picture of how
these correlates relate to one another. Longitudinal studies looking at an individual at
specific times throughout his/her life such as preadolescence, adolescence, emerging
adulthood, and adulthood would also provide a more thorough, overall picture of the
The results of the present review suggest that the effects of personal and social
correlates can assist in predicting whom is at risk for developing substance use problems,
and with further research, may improve our ability to identify young adults who would
most likely benefit from preventive interventions targeting personal and social factors.
Jensen, Sara J. (2008). Impact Of Social and Personal Correlates On Substance Abuse Among Emerging Adults (Master's thesis, Pacific University). Retrieved from: