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Date Fighting Linked to Drug Use, Other Destructive Behaviors in Teenagers

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 9, 1999 (Washington) -- While it is known that violence occurs among college-aged individuals in relationships, hitting and verbal abuse are too often part of the lives of adolescents just beginning to date. And a new study shows that such fights can be accompanied by a host of other life-threatening and self-destructive behaviors, such as drug use and unprotected sex.

"The importance of this is adolescents who are engaging in relationship violence are more likely to extend that when they become adults ... when they get into a marriage or cohabitation relationship, they are more likely to engage in domestic violence," says Robert H. DuRant, PhD, tells WebMD. DuRant is the senior author of the study and a professor of pediatrics and vice-chairman of the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Engaging in violent behaviors does not occur out of the blue. It is [prompted by] what they are exposed to in the environment and in the home," he adds. "What this shows is that our prevention programs need to be more comprehensive in nature. Our prevention programs tend to be whatever is the flavor of the month -- let's do HIV prevention, or suicide, or pregnancy. You have to address all of these behaviors simultaneously because that is how they occur. They occur together and they are reinforced together."

The study by DuRant and his colleagues, published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, shows that adolescent girls who reported fighting with a date were more likely to have attempted suicide, had unprotected sex, and injected illegal drugs, than girls who did not fight with dates. "Date fighting was also associated with the frequency of riding in a car with a drinking driver, number of pregnancies, frequency of inhalant use, and having drunk alcohol or used drugs prior to their last sexual experience," according to the study.

Among adolescent males, date fighting increased 4.2 times among those who had three or more male sexual partners in the previous three months. "There is a fair amount of overlap," DuRant, between how boys and girls who have engaged in date fighting behave in terms of other destructive behaviors. "When you compare both males and females, forced sex, having been threatened in the past with a weapon, pregnancy, and date fighting are important issues for both [sexes]."

The study is based on responses to the 91-question Youth Behavior Risk Survey, completed by almost 21,000 students in grades eight through 12 who attended Vermont schools in 1995. Of those, over 8,700 reported never having been in a fight, 432 (2%) reported having been in a physical fight with someone in the previous three months who was a dating partner, and over 11,000 said they had been in a physical fight with someone other than a date. The mean age for reporting date fighting was 16 years old and the mean grade was 10th.

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