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Survey Links Teen Dating to Drug Use

Sexually Active Teens More Likely to Smoke, Drink, or Use Illegal Drugs

WebMD Health News

Aug. 20, 2004 -- As if watching their teenagers date isn't scary enough for parents, a new survey suggests that dating may open the doors to other risky behaviors among teenagers besides sex.

Researchers found the more time teens spend with a boyfriend or girlfriend and the more sexually active friends they have, the more likely they are to get drunk, smoke, or use illicit drugs. And teenage girls who date older boys may be especially vulnerable to substance abuse.

"This year's survey reveals a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and substance abuse," says Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which conducts the annual survey, in a news release.

Findings of the telephone survey of 1,000 teens include:

  • Teens who say half or more of their friends are sexually active are more than 6.5 times more likely to drink alcohol, 31 times more likely to get drunk, 22.5 times more likely to have tried marijuana, and more 5.5 times more likely to smoke compared with those teens who have no sexually active friends.

  • Teens who spend more than 25 hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend are 2.5 times more likely to drink, five times more likely to get drunk, 4.5 times more likely to have tried marijuana, and more than 2.5 times more likely to smoke compared with teenagers who spend less than 10 hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • Teenage girls whose boyfriends are two or more years older are more than twice as likely to drink, nearly six times more likely to get drunk or have tried marijuana, and 4.5 times more likely to smoke than girls whose boyfriends are less than two years older or who do not have a boyfriend.

Sex, Drugs, and the Internet

The survey also showed that teenagers who say half or more of their friends regularly view and download pornography from the Internet are more than three times more likely to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs compared with teens who have no friends who use Internet pornography.

In a separate survey, researchers asked 500 parents about their perceptions and found that only 12% of parents think a teen's No. 1 concern is drugs, but 29% of teens surveyed said drugs were their biggest concern.But the good news is that researchers found the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs.

When asked, the survey showed that 42% of teens said they would like to discuss dating "honestly" with their parents, and 30% said they would like to talk about substance abuse with their parents at the dinner table.

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,000 teens aged 12-17 and 500 parents by telephone between April 16 and May 16, 2004. The sampling error is +/- 3.1% for teens and +/- 4.4% for parents.

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