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The impact of self-esteem on substance abuse among emerging adulthood

21 February 2011


The purpose of this study was to look at the impact of self-esteem as it related to substance use in emerging adults (18-25). Substance abuse has been increasingly recognized as contributing to one of the United State's most costly, enveloping, and challenging health and social conditions. The highest level of alcohol consumption in the U.S. takes place during emerging adulthood. (Naimi et al., 2003; Fillmore et al., 1991). During adolescence and continuing into emerging adulthood, the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs is intricately entangled with serious personal and social problems, including school failure, crime, family violence and abuse (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2008). Research shows that self-esteem can be very problematic during emerging adulthood and is a determinant of psychological well-being. It also plays an important role in people’s health. A correlation between self-esteem and alcohol/substance use was found in the majority of research looked at for this dissertation (Parish and Parish, 1991; Chen, Dufour & Yi (2004-05; Pullen, 1994; Maney, 1990; Oesterle et al., 2004; Brook, Gordon, Brook, & Brook, 1989; Donovan, 1996; Glindemann’s et al. (1999). It was also reported in many studies that the relationship between self-esteem and drinking behavior was strong and that low self-esteem often predicted alcohol and substance abuse problems (Samuels, 1974; Pullen, 1994; Diellman, Leach, Lorrenger & Horvalth (1984). Based upon the previous research, it was hypothesized that self-esteem would be negatively correlated with both drug and alcohol use. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (see Appendix D; Rosenberg, 1965) was used to measure self-esteem, and a Drug and Alcohol survey (Appendix E) was used to measure substance use. Contrary to previous research, the findings of this study were not statistically significant. There was insufficient evidence to correlate self-esteem and alcohol/substance use. It was also hypothesized that gender and age differences would be found when looking at substance use in emerging adulthood; specifically that female substance use would have an increased negative correlation with self-esteem. This study failed to find a statistically significant correlation between gender and age differences with substance use in emerging adulthood. However, the majority of participants were female and between the ages of 22-25. Although this research failed to find statistically significant correlations, it is hoped that along with increased understanding of personal correlates and risk factors associated with emerging adults’ substance patterns, the information can be used to help create preventive interventions for individuals at high risk for substance use and abuse during both adolescence and emerging adulthood. With further research, such information could be helpful in targeting specific youth for preventive interventions in both the adolescent population and the emerging adult population.


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