Forgiveness and Substance Use Problems Among College Students: Psychache, Depressive Symptoms, and Hopelessness as Mediators

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Studies on forgiveness and its relationship to substance abuse have consistently found salutary associations between the two, yet empirical investigation of variables that may serve as mediating factors in this relationship is in need of more attention. With recent models positing psychological distress as a key component of the forgiveness-substance abuse association, constructs such as psychache, depression, and hopelessness may be likely candidates as mediators of this relationship. As such, cross-sectional, self-report data from 577 undergraduate students was used to perform multiple mediation analyses on the relationship of three dimensions of forgiveness (i.e., of self, of others, of uncontrollable situations) with two substance use outcomes (i.e., problematic alcohol use and problematic drug use), as mediated by psychache, depressive symptoms, and hopelessness. Results indicated that forgiveness of self and forgiveness of uncontrollable situations were associated with lower levels of psychological distress and fewer substance use problems, whereas forgiveness of others was associated with greater levels of psychological distress and more substance use problems. Psychache and depressive symptoms, but not hopelessness, played a role in the forgiveness–substance use problems association. Implications of these findings are discussed, particularly in the context of the self-medication hypothesis.