The Link Between Substance Abuse and Risky Sexual Behaviors

drug abuse and risky sexual behaviors

In high school and sometimes sooner, adolescents are confronted with three defiant, yet coaxing opportunities: the option to drink alcohol, to try drugs, and to have sexual intercourse.  Today, most teens have tried at least one.

In many cases, these opportunities or behaviors are often linked.  Where alcohol is offered, often so are illicit drugs like marijuana.  When drugs are available to adolescents, usually alcohol is also easy to get.  At parties where drugs and/or alcohol are present, unsupervised adolescents tend to engage in risky sexual behaviors, too.

Teens who drink or use drugs are much more likely to partake in risky sexual behaviors than their non-using peers.  Despite the negative consequences, they are more likely to have sexual intercourse at younger ages and to have it with multiple partners.  Teens under age 15 who have used drugs, for example, are almost four times as likely to have had sex as those who had never used drugs.  Drug-using teenagers over age 15 are five times likelier to have sexual intercourse and three times likelier to have it with four or more partners during their adolescence.

We all hope and expect our children to make responsible choices as they grow.  Yet many teens make conscious choices to take these risks, often on numerous occasions.  Most often, adolescents get so caught up in their own risk-taking that they fail to recognize the long-term risks.  What starts as mere “experimentation” with drugs or sex can quickly advance into unrulier behaviors and larger, lasting problems such as disease or addiction. 

There are several reasons why teens use drugs and have sex at such an early age.  They may do it to fit in, to be “cool,” or in response to peer pressure.  Girls and young women specifically may engage in these behaviors to impress an older peer or significant other.  Teens, in general, tend to believe that alcohol and drugs are the keys to reducing shyness and relieving any anxiety or guilt.  For example, if intoxicated, they believe they will have more confidence sexually.  Teens may also feel they are not fully responsible or can easily excuse their actions if drunk.

A large part of teens’ reasons for drug use also lies in their biological make-up.  In our recent infographic on addiction and the teenage brain, we saw that the adolescent brain does not fully develop until age 25.  The last part of the brain to mature is the frontal cortex, our primary controller of judgment and decision-making.  This means that at age 13, even age 18, we are not entirely capable of making rational decisions.  In adolescence, we are more prone to take risks because we cannot fully grasp their consequences.

Couple this with the parts of the brain that are the first to mature—the ones that are focused on sensory experiences and emotions.  Teenagers are better able to experience the pleasurable effects of getting high or binge drinking than to evaluate the negative outcomes that may follow.

Moe Gilbert, alcohol and chemical dependency psychologist, explains this further in a Healthy Women article: "We have teens who have hormones and needs for excitement and physical stimulation, but who lack maturity and understanding of the consequences of their behaviors…  When any substance use is thrown into the mix, the judgment aspect of the brain is severely affected.  Thus, we have adolescents engaging in very high-risk behaviors."

High-risk behaviors stretch beyond plain drug use and sex.  Healthy Women reports that teens who partake in prescription drug abuse are:

  • 26 percent more likely to be currently sexually active
  • 14 percent more likely to not use protection during sex
  • 32 percent more likely to use drugs or alcohol before they have sex
  • 45 percent more likely to have four plus previous sexual partners

Young women, in general, are more likely to accelerate to high-risk behaviors faster than their male peers.  They also progress from drug initiation to substance addiction more quickly.

What does this mean for your teenage daughter?  A result of the above teen drug use statistics, young women who engage in drug activity or who are in a relationship with a drug user are at high risk of unintended pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, and HIV/Aids.  Biologically, females are more susceptible to contracting STDs and asymptomatic infections.  Not only this, but statistics sadly show that young women who drink or use drugs are more likely to get sexually assaulted than their abstinent peers.  Drug use often puts people in dangerous situations and intoxication lessens one’s ability to defend themselves against attack.

Protect your loved one and educate her on the dangers of drug use and risky sexual behaviors.  If you are at all concerned for your daughter, sister, friend, or partner, please do not hesitate to call Turnbridge’s drug rehab for women at 877-581-1793. Early intervention and professional treatment may be what she needs to gain control of her life once again.