Risky sexual behavior increases the likelihood that individuals will contract or spread HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). Unwanted pregnancies are also a consequence of risky sexual behavior. Young adults who engage in this type of activity often have substance misuse or dependency problems. This increases the probability that they will take risks because of decreased inhibitions. Studies have shown that people with these traits may have psychological issues that stem from childhood experiences. Different types of childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, have been shown to pose a risk for later psychological impairments. Because of the significant relationship between childhood abuse and sexual risk taking, it is imperative that this link be examined thoroughly in order to design interventions that meet all the needs of this vulnerable population.
To this end, Assaf Oshri of the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences at the University of Rochester’s Mt. Hope Family Center in New York recently led a study that evaluated the sexual risk taking patterns of 394 adolescents who were receiving outpatient services for substance abuse. Oshri found that the teens had many different risk factors that increased their chances of contracting STIs and HIV, but two were directly linked to substance use and sexual risk taking. “Findings were consistent with previous research documenting significant relations between childhood sexual abuse or neglect and the development of a wide range of psychopathology among youths, including substance use disorders,” said Oshri.
These results suggest that teens who have survived these types of abuses have not been able to develop adaptive coping skills and instead rely on destructive habits of coping with their emotional trauma by using drugs or alcohol. This behavior seems to increase the likelihood of substance dependence and risk taking in these teens. Although Oshri discovered a stronger link between childhood sexual abuse and alcohol dependence than sexual abuse and drug dependence, this finding should be taken with caution. Oshri emphasizes that it is critical for clinicians to examine the specific types of abuse a teen has survived when trying to address any form of substance abuse.
Oshri, A., Tubman, J. G., Burnette, M. L. (2012). Childhood maltreatment histories, alcohol and other drug use symptoms, and sexual risk behavior in a treatment sample of adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 102.S2, S250-S257.
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