Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Dr. Guillermo Montes

Second Supervisor

Dr. Donna Riter


The use of tobacco products, alcohol, and marijuana peaks in emerging adulthood. Research on substance use generally focuses on adolescent or adult samples, with emerging adults at times being grouped in one or the other, yet emerging adults encounter unique conditions that make them worthy of isolated study. This study investigated the experiences, perceptions, and harm reduction techniques used by college attending, college completed, and noncollege attending emerging adults regarding tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use. A multisite qualitative analysis was used. Research questions focused on (a) ecological factors impacting emerging adult substance users, (b) strategies employed to reduce harm as well as perception of harm reduction as an approach to substance abuse, (c) similarities and differences between college and noncollege emerging adults, and (d) the purpose and role of substance use in emerging adult lives. Twelve participants engaged in semi-structured interviews. Four major findings were identified. The ecological factors of self, parents, and peer/environment have a deep impact on emerging adult substance use. Emerging adults utilize several strategies to manage and moderate use. College attending or completed students often view the college environment as an “exploratory moratorium” in which exploration of substance use is supported and relatively safe but noncollege emerging adults are more likely to utilize substance use as a means of emotional management, escape or coping. Finally, emerging adults used substances to belong and/or to escape.

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