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Date of Award


Degree Type

Thesis (On-Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Master of Science in Psychology

Committee Chair

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

important relationships.

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.


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