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Stress and coping among children of alcoholic parents through the young adult transition



The transition to young adulthood is both a time when risky health behaviors such as substance misuse peak and a time of opportunity for growth and development through the acquisition of adult roles. In this transition, coping styles include responses to the stressors and opportunities associated with the emergence of adulthood. The extent to which such coping styles are skillfully employed in part determines adjustment into adulthood. The current study used a high-risk, longitudinal design to examine the development of coping styles over adolescence, continuity in these coping styles from adolescence to adulthood, the impact of coping on adult stress and substance misuse, the ability of coping to buffer effects of stress on substance use, and differences in coping between at-risk youth (i.e., children of alcoholics [COAs]) and their peers. A sample of 340 adolescents completed four assessments over ages 11–23. We used latent trajectory models to examine interindividual and intraindividual change in coping over time. Evidence for both change and continuity in the development of coping from adolescence to adulthood was found, although adolescent coping had limited impact on stress and substance use in adulthood. Support was also found for complex stress-buffering and stress-exacerbating effects of coping on the relations between major life events and adult drug use and between stress associated with the new roles of adulthood and heavy alcohol use. Implications of these findings for development and adjustment in the transition to adulthood are discussed.


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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Andrea Hussong, Department of Psychology, CB#3270, Davie Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270; E-mail:


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