Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2011

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Laura Holt

Second Advisor

Carol Shilliday


National statistics show that there is a marked increase in risky behaviors, such as substance use and risky sex, when students enter college (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2009). In order to explain this phenomenon, researchers have explored multiple individual and environmental factors that might explain why some students are at higher risk for engaging in these behaviors. The quality of one’s relationship with a parent(s) has emerged as one key predictor of student adjustment (Larose, Bernier, & Tarabulsy, 2005; Larose & Boivin, 1998). Accordingly, in the current study it was hypothesized that the quality of first-year students’ relationships with parents and friends (parent and peer attachment) would predict the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior. Since few studies have explored more proximal variables that might explain the relations between attachment and risky behavior, the current study examined whether emotion regulation and self-esteem also predicted engagement in risky behavior. It was hypothesized that lower parent/peer attachment would be associated with difficulties in emotion regulation and in turn, problems with emotion regulation would predict substance use. Also, based on previous research, it was expected that higher levels of attachment would be associated with greater self-esteem and, in turn, higher self-esteem would predict lower rates of risky sexual behavior.

To test these hypotheses, a sample of first-year Trinity students (N= 69) completed an online survey with questions about their relationships with parents and peers, emotion regulation strategies, self-esteem, alcohol use and related problems, drug use, and risky sexual behavior. As hypothesized, close relationships with parents and peers were associated with less difficulty with emotion regulation and higher levels of self-esteem, and close relationships with parents predicted a lower intensity of heavy drinking. Contrary to the hypotheses, neither quality of parent/peer attachment nor emotion regulation predicted alcohol-related problems, and greater attachment to peers predicted more pronounced heavy drinking. Future research should examine other variables besides emotion regulation that might explain the link between parent attachment and heavy drinking. Given that peer attachment was positively associated with intensity of heavy drinking, future research also should examine, in greater detail, the nature of the link between attachment and heavy drinking.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Psychology.