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Risky Sexual Behavior and Substance Use Among Teens

April 20, 2001

An article in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, examines the relationship of teen substance use and dependence to sexual risk-taking behavior in late adolescents and young adulthood.

Researchers recruited adolescents who had been inpatients at alcohol and drug treatment centers in the San Diego area. Researchers then recruited a controlled group of adolescents who had not had drug or alcohol problems from nearby communities.

Participants completed self-assessment surveys at the time of recruitment and then again at two, four, and six year intervals. Results are based on complete data collected from 105 treated teens and 77 community teens (ages 15 to 21) between 1987 and 1992.


Results

Two-Year Follow-Up

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Sexual Behavior

  • 94% of participants in treatment and 62% of community participants reported having had sexual intercourse in the year prior to the two year follow-up.
  • 72% of participants in treatment and 50% of community participants reported having had multiple sexual partners in the year preceding the two-year follow-up.
  • 46% of participants in treatment and 25% of community participants reported having had sexual intercourse with a casual acquaintance in the six months preceding the two-year follow-up.

Condom/Contraception Use

  • 63% of female participants in treatment and 93% of female community participants reported currently using birth control (including condoms) at the two year follow-up.
  • 20% of participants in treatment and 46% of community participants reported currently using condoms at the two year follow-up.

Pregnancy

  • 25% of female participants in treatment and 7% of female community participants reported ever having been pregnant between the intake of the study and at the two year follow-up.

Four-Year Follow-Up

Sexual Behavior

  • 99% of participants in treatment and 75% of community participants reported having had sexual intercourse in the year preceding the four year follow-up.
  • 52% of participants in treatment and 47% of community participants reported having had multiple sexual partners in the year preceding the four year follow-up.
  • 44% of participants in treatment and 40% of community participants reported having sexual intercourse with a casual acquaintance in the six months preceding the four year follow-up.

Condom/Contraception Use

  • 62% of female participants in treatment and 76% of female community participants reported currently using birth control (including condoms) at the four year follow-up.
  • 25% of participants in treatment and 33% of community participants reported currently using condoms at the four year follow-up.

Pregnancy

  • 39% of female participants in treatment and 14% of female community participants reported having been pregnant between the two year and four year follow-up.

Six-Year Follow-Up

Sexual Behavior

  • 95% of participants in treatment and 88% of community participants reported having had sexual intercourse in the year prior to the six year follow-up.
  • 44% of participants in treatment and 49% of community participants reported having had multiple sexual partners in the year preceding the six year follow-up.
  • 39% of participants in treatment and 31% of community participants reported having had sexual intercourse with a casual acquaintance six months preceding the six year follow-up.

Condom/Contraception Use

  • 60% of female participants in treatment and 86% of female community participants reported using birth control (including condoms) at the six year follow-up.
  • 28% of participants in treatment and 37% of community participants reported currently using condoms at the six year follow-up.

Pregnancy

  • 22% of female participants in treatment and 16% of female community participants reported ever having been pregnant between the four year and six year follow-up.


STD/HIV

  • 12% of participants in treatment and 5% of community participants reported ever having had a STD between the intake of the study and the six year follow-up.
  • 55% of participants in treatment and 27% of community participants reported ever being tested for HIV between the intake of the study and the six year follow-up.

The study found that youth treated for substance use disorders were significantly more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, both during adolescence and as they transitioned into young adulthood. The results show that adolescents treated for substance problems evidenced an early onset of sexual activity, more sexual partners, and less consistent use of condoms compared to their non-treated community peers. However, the disparity between the treated and non-treated groups diminished with time.

The authors note that treatment for substance use disorders usually focuses primarily on cessation of substance use, with less concern for other important issues that may affect coping and adjustment after treatment ends. The authors suggest "addressing these issues as part of treatment may effectively improve adolescent outcomes across critical life domains." They emphasize that continuity of care and continued monitoring of risky sexual behaviors are needed for substance abusing youth, as these risks persist long after treatment.

For more information: S. F. Tapert, et al., "Adolescent Substance Use and Sexual Risk-Taking Behavior," Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 181-89.



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
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