Teen Sex and Drug Use May Be Cause of Depression, Not the Effect

Armen Hareyan's picture

Teen Sex and Depression

A new study is challenging the belief that young people begin sex and drug behaviors to "self-medicate" depression.

"Findings from the study show depression came after substance and sexual activity, not the other way around," says health policy researcher Denise Dion Hallfors.

The study, published in the October edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, uncovered gender-specific pathways to depression.


"For females, even modest involvement in substance use and sexual experimentation elevates depression risk," the study found. "In contrast, boys show little added risk with experimental behavior, but binge drinking and frequent use of marijuana contribute substantial risk."

Hallfors' advice to health professionals is to routinely screen for drug use and sexual behavior in teens.

Psychiatrist Chris Lucas, a clinical coordinator with the New York University Child Study Center, also advocates more vigilant screening. He says pediatricians who give yearly before-school checkups are in a unique position to ask a few simple questions that could uncover clues about depression.

Only about one in five adolescents who have depression will be recognized and diagnosed, Lucas says.

Hallfors' study culled data from a national survey of adolescents to create a population-based sample of 13,491 girls and boys in grades 7 to 11. Each child was placed in one of 16 groups based on his or her reported experience with a range of risk behaviors. One of the groups was "abstainers"



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