New study finds those with friends who have sex are more likely to try substance abuse
Autor: Courtney C. Radsch Fuente: New York Times

WASHINGTON - The words of an old proverb — "Tell me who you walk with, and I'll tell you who you are" — gained new meaning on Thursday with the release of a national study showing that teenagers whose friends were sexually active were more likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

Teenagers who reported that at least half of their friends were sexually active were 31 times likelier to get drunk, 5 1/2 times likelier to smoke and 22 1/2 times likelier to have tried marijuana, according to the study, released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

'Message for parents'
"It's a clear message for parents," said Joseph Califano, the center's chairman and president. "The thunder of teen sexual activity and dating behavior may signal the lightning of substance abuse."

Califano was careful to point out that the results did not indicate that sexual activity caused substance abuse or vice versa, but rather indicated an increased risk. He said that 14.1 million Americans ages 12 to 17 were at medium or high risk of substance abuse, and that the risk was "tightly connected" with sexual behavior and dating. For example, as the amount of time spent with a boyfriend or girlfriend increases, so does the risk of substance abuse. A teenager who spends 25 or more hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend is five times likelier to get drunk and 4 1/2 times likelier to use marijuana than a counterpart who spends less than 10 hours with a significant other, the survey found.

Thirty-one percent of the teenagers surveyed said they had a boyfriend or girlfriend, which increased their average risk. The study also found that girls who dated boys who were at least two years older were more than twice as likely to drink, 4 1/2 times as likely to smoke and six times likelier to get drunk or to try marijuana.

The survey showed that 11.5 million teenagers had friends who regularly viewed Internet pornography and downloaded it, and that a teenager with a majority of friends who did so was "three times more likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs than a teen who has no such friends."

'Parental denial'
The study, the ninth National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse, asked about the attitudes of a teenager's friends, as a surrogate for the teenager's own behavior, said Steve Wagner, president of QEV Analytics, the company that conducted the survey. "Teens that tell you more than half their friends smoke marijuana are much more likely to have tried it themselves," Wagner said in an interview.

At a news conference, Califano said one finding that had stayed consistent since the first study, in 1995, was the "tremendous parental denial" about teenagers and drug use.

The survey found that although drugs continued to be the biggest concern of teenagers, only 12 percent of parents saw drugs as their teenager's top concern. But parents saw drugs and alcohol as the most important problem facing them, as parents, with a majority saying they believed it was unrealistic to expect that a teenager would never try an illegal drug, and most perceived a correlation between drug and alcohol use and sexual activity.

The survey interviewed 1,000 teenagers and 500 of their parents at random by telephone.

The teenagers' survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; the margin for the parental survey was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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