Abstract: Trauma, Peer Support and Stress: A Path Analysis on Mediating Effects of Coping Among Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness (Society for Social Work and Research 28th Annual Conference - Recentering & Democratizing Knowledge: The Next 30 Years of Social Work Science)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Eastern Standard Time Zone (EST).

SSWR 2024 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 11. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Trauma, Peer Support and Stress: A Path Analysis on Mediating Effects of Coping Among Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness

Friday, January 12, 2024
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
MacKenzie Dallenbach, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Brandi Armstrong, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Jama Shelton, PhD, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Kimberly Bender, PhD, Professor, University of Denver, CO
Kristin Ferguson, PhD, Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, Associate Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX
Sarah Narendorf, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work and Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, University of Houston, TX
Background and Purpose

Over 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness in the U.S. per year. Without stable housing, these youth are at risk of trauma exposure, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACE), is prevalent among young adults experiencing homelessness (YAEH). YAEH, therefore, are likely to engage in heavy drinking as a form of combating their traumatic experiences. Furthermore, YAEH may also be embedded in a peer support network where they may receive support critical to their survival during homelessness, while at the same time, facilitating opportunities and adding pressure for heavy drinking. The stress and coping theory (SCT) argues that individuals’ coping capacity may mediate the relationships between stressors and risk behavior engagement, including heavy drinking. Literature on the role coping may play in the relationships of previous trauma and peer supports with YAEH’s heavy drinking risks remains scarce. Informed by the SCT, this study aims to explore whether YAEH’s coping may serve as a mechanism through which traumatic experiences (e.g., ACE), perceived stress, and peer support may be associated with their heavy drinking risks. Specifically, we hypothesized that active and avoidant coping would each mediate the relationships between peer support, ACE, and perceived stress and heavy drinking. A better understanding of the role coping plays in YEAH’s heavy drinking risks will provide critical insights for future heavy drinking risk reduction interventions targeting this vulnerable population.


This study used cross-sectional survey data collected from YAEH (N=1,348) aged between 18-24 from seven major cities in the U.S. In addition to personal attributes (e.g., demographics and substance use behaviors), this survey also incorporated an egocentric social network component to collect YAEH’s network composition, including sources of social supports. Past 30-day heavy drinking was defined as having five or more drinks within a couple of hours. Bivariate regressions were conducted to investigate associations of independent variables with coping, including active coping and avoidant coping (hypothesized intervening mechanism), and heavy drinking. Using the Lavaan package in R, a recursive path analysis model was conducted to examine our hypotheses.


Heavy drinking was highly prevalent among YAEH (34.34%). In the final path model, avoidant coping had a direct positive effect on heavy drinking (β=0.423, p <0.001); ACE, perceived stress, and having more peers who provided social supports had indirect effects on YAEH’s heavy drinking through avoidant coping (β=0.202, p < .001; β=0.186, p < .001; β=0.079, p < .001; respectively).

Conclusion and Implications

This study found that avoidant coping fully mediated the relationship between peer support, ACE, and perceived stress and heavy drinking. Our finding indicates that the YAEH may be utilizing heavy drinking to “avoid” coping (e.g., self-medication) with their traumatic experiences, homeless stress, and social pressure. The preference for adopting avoidant coping strategies may stem from YAEH’s lack of active coping knowledge and skills under the context of surviving homelessness and the trauma along with it. Future heavy drinking risk reduction interventions may need to focus on addressing YAEH’s use of avoidant coping to combat trauma and stress.