National estimates suggest that 20–30% of youth experience violent victimization by peers, such as physical assault or attack with a weapon (Slovak & Singer, 2002
; Stein, Jaycox, Kataoka, Rhodes, & Vestal, 2003
). Although much of the literature has focused on peer violence within impoverished, inner-city communities, these rates are typical of urban, suburban, and rural communities (Slovak & Singer, 2002
; Stein et al., 2003
). Violent victimization may have consequences other than physical injury among youth, including posttraumatic stress and depression (Gorman-Smith & Tolan, 1998
; Ozer & Weinstein, 2004
). Adolescents who have been victimized by violence are also more likely to engage in alcohol and tobacco use, initiate substance use early, engage in more frequent use, and become substance use dependent (Ellickson, Saner, & McGuigan, 1997
; Schwab-Stone et al., 1995
). Studies on peer violence and substance use have included nationally representative (Kilpatrick et al., 2000
) and predominantly African-American urban samples of youth (Albus, Weist, & Perez-Smith, 2004
; Sullivan, Farrell, & Kliewer, 2006
), as well as relatively understudied ethnic minority subgroups such as Central-American (Kliewer et al., 2006
) and Mexican-American youth (Ramos-Lira, Gonzalez-Forteza, & Wagner, 2006
). Associations between substance use and both violent victimization (Brady, Tschann, Pasch, Flores, & Ozer, in press) and violent perpetration (Brady et al., in press; White, Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Farrington, 1999
) are bidirectional, suggesting that substance use may both be a response to violence involvement and place adolescents at risk for further violence involvement.
According to stress-coping theory, a stressor will not negatively impact individuals who possess resources to adequately cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984
). To our knowledge, no studies have examined coping as a moderator of the association between violent victimization and substance use among adolescents. Some studies suggest that adaptive coping may protect youth from broadly defined behavioral problems in response to violence exposure. In one prospective study of urban African American and Latino male adolescents, community violence exposure was associated with increases in violent behavior only among adolescents who did not engage in adaptive coping (e.g., focusing on positive aspects of life) during the time of violence exposure (Brady, Gorman-Smith, Henry, & Tolan, 2008
). Cross-sectional studies of adolescents and young adults show that coping similarly moderates associations between community violence exposure and delinquency (Rosario, Salzinger, Feldman, & Ng-Mak, 2003
), externalizing behavior (McGee, 2003
), and aggressive behavior (Scarpa & Haden, 2006
). Cross-sectional (Wills, 1986
) and prospective (Wills, Sandy, Yaeger, Cleary, & Shinar, 2001
) studies among ethnically diverse adolescents show that associations between general stressors
and substance use are not as strong among adolescents who engage in high levels of behavioral coping (e.g., problem solving) or cognitive coping (e.g., positive reappraisal of stress).
The present cross-sectional study tests whether coping moderates the association between violent victimization by peers and substance use among urban Mexican-American and European-American adolescents. We address two issues of conceptual significance. First, we examine whether engagement in cognitive and behavioral coping both moderate associations between violent victimization and substance use, or whether only cognitive coping acts as a moderator. When stressors are relatively uncontrollable, attempting to change negative thoughts and feelings (i.e., cognitive coping) may be more effective in reducing distress than attempting to change one's situation (i.e., behavioral coping; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984
; Zeidner, 2005
). Second, we adjust for violent perpetration in analyses to conduct a more direct test of stress-coping theory. The cooccurrence of different health risk behaviors among youth has been described as a problem behavior syndrome (Jessor, Donovan, & Costa, 1996
). Although a problem behavior syndrome may explain the clustering of violent perpetration
with other forms of health risk behavior, it may not provide the best explanation of why violent victimization
is associated with substance use, particularly after adjustment for perpetration.
We hypothesize that violent victimization will be associated with greater levels of alcohol and tobacco use, independent of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and violent perpetration. We further hypothesize that the association between violent victimization and substance use will be stronger in magnitude among adolescents who engage in low rather than high levels of cognitive coping. We do not expect behavioral coping to act as a moderator. Our sample composition allows us to test for potential interactions involving ethnicity and gender.