The moderating role of experiential avoidance in the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity and cannabis dependence

Michael J. Bordien, Matthew T. Tull, Michael J. McDermott, Kim L. Gratz

The relationship between cannabis use and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has received increased scientific scrutiny in recent years. Consistent with this research, studies provide evidence that many individuals with PTSD use cannabis to reduce negative affect and other unpleasant internal experiences associated with PTSD. However, no research to date has explored factors that may be associated with an increased likelihood of cannabis misuse among individuals with PTSD. Consequently, this study explored the moderating role of experiential avoidance (EA; defined as the tendency to engage in strategies to reduce unpleasant private experiences) in the PTSD-cannabis dependence relationship among a sample of 123 Criterion A trauma-exposed patients in residential substance abuse treatment. Moderation analyses indicated and interactive effect of PTSD symptom severity and EA on current cannabis dependence. Specifically, results revealed a conditional effect of PTSD symptom severity on cannabis dependence only when EA was average or higher, with higher levels of PTSD symptom severity associated with a greater risk of cannabis dependence. These findings are consistent with evidence that cannabis use may serve an avoidant function among some individuals with PTSD and suggest that acceptance-based behavioral approaches might be effective in targeting both cannabis use and PTSD-related impairment.

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