Alcohol and Nonmedical Prescription Drug Use to Cope With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: An Analysis of Hurricane Sandy Survivors

Sarah R. Lowe, Laura Sampson, Megan N. Young, Sandro Galea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Postdisaster increases in substance use have been attributed to use of substances to cope with emotional reactions. However, no study to our knowledge has explored disaster survivors' substance use to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Objective: We investigated the prevalence and correlates of alcohol use and nonmedical prescription drug use (NMPDU) to cope with PTSD symptoms in two population-based samples of adult residents of New York City neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Sandy. Method: Participants completed structured interviews at either 13–16 or 25–28 months postdisaster (combined N = 914). Participants with PTSD symptoms, assessed via the Posttraumatic Stress Checklist for DSM-5, indicated whether they coped with their symptoms through alcohol use or NMPDU, via items adapted from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Logistic regression models explored correlates of substance use coping, including demographic characteristics, lifetime and hurricane-related exposures, and psychiatric symptoms in the combined sample. Results: Over a third of participants in the combined sample (n = 311, 34.0%) reported PTSD symptoms, and of these, 12.8% used alcohol to cope and 9.2% endorsed NMPDU to cope. Older age and being a parent living with a child under 18 years old at the time of the hurricane were associated with a lower likelihood, and more severe depression symptoms with a higher likelihood, of alcohol use coping. Conclusions/Importance: Although preliminary, the results provide evidence for the use of substances to cope with postdisaster PTSD symptoms, and that age, parent status, and depression symptoms are associated with alcohol use coping.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1348-1356
Number of pages9
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number10
StatePublished - 24 Aug 2017


  • Hurricane Sandy
  • Natural disasters
  • alcohol use
  • coping
  • nonmedical prescription drug use
  • substance use


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