Adolescent Drinking Increases Risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Adolescents experiment with different things as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Many teens will have their first taste of alcohol and drugs during adolescence. This behavior significantly lowers teens’ inhibitions and can lead to other dangerous activities, including engaging in risky sexual behavior, which puts them at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and HIV/AIDS. Adolescents who contract STIs most often do so due to inconsistent condom use when having sex with an infected partner. Because the rates of STIs are much higher among African American young adults than White young adults, it is imperative to understand which factors influence sexual risk taking across cultures.

Maria R. Khan of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health recently led a study to determine how alcohol use in adolescence affects sexual risk taking among Whites as compared to African Americans. Khan used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to compare alcohol and sexual behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood in a sample of 10,783 participants. She found that during adolescence, Whites had higher levels of reported alcohol use than African Americans. This predicted later sexual risk taking in Whites. Specifically, White participants were 50% more likely to have more than two sexual partners in the previous year if they had a history of adolescent drinking. The odds increased to nearly 70% of having more than five sexual partners as their level of drinking increased.

Although African Americans had lower levels of adolescent alcohol misuse, they had equal levels of risky sexual behaviors as Whites. Additionally, alcohol use increased the likelihood of unsafe sexual activity by more than 60% in both groups of participants. This relationship was also found between alcohol use and sex with an infected person. These results clearly demonstrated that alcohol misuse in adolescence influenced the lack of condom use and increased the sexual activity with infected partners for both Whites and African Americans. However, Khan believes that social and economic barriers could prevent African Americans from receiving the education and intervention services aimed at safer sexual activity. She added, “Parents, schools, and health care providers should improve communication about alcohol use in attempts to delay use and should identify alcohol users to address use and potentially prevent adverse health effects.”

Khan, M. R., Berger, A. T., Wells, B. E., Cleland, C. M. (2012). Longitudinal associations between adolescent alcohol use and adulthood sexual risk behavior and sexually transmitted infection in the United States: Assessment of differences by race. American Journal of Public Health, 102.5, 867-876.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • bill dodson

    bill dodson

    May 11th, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    I’m sorry but I really don’t feel that this is about a lack of education and information anymore. The resoyrces are there, the knowledge is there, the equipment to prevent it is there but kids are letting us down. We have done our part but they are not holding up their end of the bargain. It used to be that we were not giing them the information, and now we do. Then it was that they did not have access to contraception, and now they do. Yet they still engage in risky behavior. We can’t be there to sytop them every minute of every day, so they have somehow got to find a little will power and say no a few more times than they have been. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

  • Carter


    May 11th, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    I have always wondered how some kids just never seemed to have any problem at all wih scoring illegal alcohol and using it to the point of abuse without an adult ever stepping in. So I lay a lot of blame for this kind of behavior on parents who just stop paying attention to things that are going on with their kids.

  • Grayson


    May 12th, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Well, I think that it has already been pretty firmly established that anyone who drinks is going to make some impaired and poor decisions. Adults and teens alike kind of lose it when it comes to making wise choices after they have been drinking to the extreme. Adolescents only want to please other people especially their peers. They are going to make some bad choices anyway because of all of the pressure that they already feel to fit in. Alcohol and binge drinking will make them even more susceptible to making choices that they normally would not make. I would like to say that it has to be more about educating them to make safer choices, but sometimes it really does feel like you are banging your head up against a wall when it comes to reasoning with them.

  • Madelyn


    May 14th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    It is almost hard for me to believe that we are still having this conversation, the same things that were being talked about when I was in junior high and high school.
    Where are we failing these kids, and how do we continue to let it happen?
    We have known for a very long time that choosing one irresponsible behavior naturally leads to engaging in another, and then another.
    But we have kind of lost our way when it comes to stopping the behavior in its tracks. How do we get all of that back on track again?

  • jayden prosser

    jayden prosser

    May 14th, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    Call me old but I really don’t understand the risk taking mentality of the young. Don’t they get the message that this kind of risk is not something that might afect them for one noght, but this is truly behavior which could come back to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Are we just not making this message loud and clear enough for them?

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