Indicators of increased likelihood of substance abuse

Teens who say at least half their friends are having sex are more likely to report having tried marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes.

The annual survey, released Thursday, asked teens aged 12-17 about their use of illegal substances. Researchers then looked for other activities of daily life that were associated with such use.

“This year’s survey reveals a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and substance abuse,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

“Parents who become aware of certain dating and sexual behavior by their children should be alert to the increased likelihood of substance abuse,” he said.

In a separate effort to discourage underage drinking, the children’s cable TV channel Nickelodeon and an advocacy group, The Century Council, were announcing an initiative Thursday to reach out to kids and parents. “Ask, Listen and Learn” aims to educate kids about the issue and to help parents talk with their kids about underage drinking. It is to include booklets, Web sites and TV public service ads aimed at both groups.

Unlike other surveys, the one by the Columbia group did not ask teens about their own sexual activity, but asked them to estimate how many of their friends were sexually active. It was conducted this way because the ethical review board that oversees the center would not approve a direct question, said spokeswoman Lauren Duran.

Researchers compared teens who reported at least half their friends are sexually active with those who said none of their friends are. About one in four teens reported at least half their friends are sexually active; about four in ten said none are.

The study found that the first group is:

– More likely to have tried alcohol, 66 percent vs. 10 percent of those whose friends don’t have sex.

– More likely to have gotten drunk at least once in the past month, 31 percent vs. 1 percent.

– More likely to have tried marijuana, 45% vs. 2%.

 More likely to have tried cigarettes, 45% vs. 8%.

The survey also found that the more time teens spend with their boyfriends or girlfriends, the more likely they are to smoke, drink and use drugs.

No matter what their behavior, teens said that smoking, using illegal drugs and getting drunk are not cool. More than 80% said each of these activities make a teenager “seem like a loser.” About 10% said the activities make him or her “seem cool.”

The telephone survey of 1,000 teenagers was conducted between April 16 and May 16, 2004. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points for the entire group, larger for subgroups.

On the Net: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University:

Ask, Listen, Learn:  

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