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Study Examines the Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Sexual Activity

January 7, 2000

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex, a new report released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, examines the complex connections between substance abuse and sexual activity.

CASA analyzed national data sets of more than 34,000 teenagers, reviewed over 800 articles and books, and examined prevention and treatment programs concerned with substance abuse, sexual activity, and sexual violence.

Much of the information about the behavior of teenagers included in this report comes from CASA's analysis of the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Findings include:

Alcohol/ Drug Consumption

  • Almost 80% of high school students have experimented with alcohol at least once, and 46% of teens are frequent drinkers (defined as having consumed alcohol on 10 or more days during their lifetime).


  • More than 50% of all high school students reported having used at least one illicit drug, 25% reported frequent drug use, and 12% reported heavy recent use of marijuana or cocaine.

Sexual Activity

  • According to CASA's analysis of data from 1997 the YRBS, 58% of teenage boys and 51% of teenage girls reported having had sexual intercourse.

Alcohol/Drug Use and Sexual Activity

  • Teens who use alcohol are seven times more likely to have had sexual intercourse than those who do not use alcohol.


  • Teens who use drugs are five times more likely to have had sexual intercourse than those who do not use drugs.

Teenagers Under 15

  • Teens under 15 who have ever used alcohol are twice as likely to have had sexual intercourse than their peers who have never used alcohol.


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  • Teens under 15 who have ever used drugs are almost four times as likely to have had sexual intercourse than their peers who have never used drugs.



  • 20% of teens who initiated alcohol use prior to age 14 reported having had sexual intercourse at age 14 or younger. In comparison, only 7% of teens who had not initiated alcohol use prior to age 14 reported having had sexual intercourse at age 14 or younger.

Multiple Partners

  • Teens who use alcohol are twice as likely to have had intercourse with  four or more sexual partners in their lifetimes than their peers who do not use alcohol.


  • Similarly, teens who use drugs are three times as likely to have had sexual intercourse with four or more partners during their lifetime than their peers who do not use drugs.

The authors point out that the relationship alcohol and drugs more likely to engage in sexual activity with more partners, but the more sexual partners teens have the more likely they are to use alcohol and drugs.

While it is clear that teens who drink and use drugs are more likely to have sexual intercourse at earlier ages and with more partners, it is not clear which behavior starts first-sexual intercourse or drinking/drug use.

The relationship between substance abuse and sexual activity is well known. The findings suggest, however, that intervention programs often fail to address this relationship.

The authors recommend that schools, health providers, and social service programs create comprehensive prevention programs that address both substance use and sexual activity. Such programs should offer age-appropriate education about the impact of substance use on sexual pressure, risk-taking, sexual violence, and sexual inhibition.

The authors also suggest that programs should help teenagers manage alcohol and sexual activity by providing practical skill-building exercises such as role playing, negotiation skills, strategies to resist pressure, and ways to avoid risky situations.

For more information:

Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 152 West 57th Street, 12th Floor New York, NY 10019-3310; Phone: 212/841-5200; Fax: 212/956-8020; Web site: http://www.casacolumbia.org.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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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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