PTSD Symptoms Mediate the Relationship Between Sexual Abuse and Substance Use Risk in Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth
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Juvenile justice-involved youth face disproportionate rates of sexual abuse, which increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders (SUDs), both of which are associated with poor long-term outcomes. The present study tested two mediation and moderation models, controlling for age, race, and history of physical abuse, with gender as a moderator, to determine whether PTSD symptoms serve as a risk factor and/or mechanism in the relationship between sexual abuse and substance use. Data were examined for 197 juvenile justice-involved youth (mean age = 15.45, 68.9% non-White, 78.4% male) that completed court-ordered psychological assessments. Results indicated that PTSD symptoms significantly mediated the relationship between sexual abuse and drug (β = 3.44, confidence interval [CI] [0.26, 7.41]; test for indirect effect z = 2.41, p = .02) and alcohol use (β = 1.42, CI [0.20, 3.46]; test for indirect effect z = 2.23, p = .03). PTSD symptoms and gender were not significant moderators. Overall, PTSD symptoms mediate the relationship between sexual abuse and SUDs in juvenile justice-involved youth, which suggests viability of targeting PTSD symptoms as a modifiable risk factor to reduce the effects of sexual abuse on substance use in this high-risk population.