- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

Teenage girls with boyfriends two or more years older than them are more likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs than those whose boyfriends are less than two years older or who do not have a boyfriend, according to a survey released yesterday.

The annual back-to-school survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University in New York also found that the more sexually active friends a teen has and the more time a teen spends with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the greater the risk that a teen will try cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.

“We’re not saying that sexual activity causes substance abuse or vice versa, although there is plenty of research that shows drugs are sexually disinhibiting,” CASA chairman and president Joseph A. Califano Jr., who served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter administration, said yesterday.

But he said the findings should inform parents that daughters with older boyfriends and “kids running with sexually active friends are much more likely” to drink, try marijuana and smoke cigarettes than those with younger romantic interests and those with friends who are not engaged in sex.

“The message for parents … is clear: The thunder of teen sexual activity and dating behavior may signal the lightning of substance abuse … this year’s survey reveals a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and substance abuse,” Mr. Califano wrote in an introduction to the 2004 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse IX: Teen Dating Practices and Sexual Activity.

“We’re trying to give parents some markers to alert them,” he said yesterday.

The CASA survey was based on telephone interviews of 1,000 youth ages 12 to 17, conducted by QVC Analytics April 16 to May 16. There also were household interviews with 500 consenting parents.

In early 2002, CASA was criticized widely for incorrectly reporting that underage drinkers account for 25 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States. They actually accounted for less than 12 percent of total consumption, federal officials said. Mr. Califano acknowledged a “mistake was made” in the 2002 report, but expressed confidence in the data provided in the new CASA survey.

The survey on dating practices and sexual activity — the first of its kind by CASA — found that two-thirds of girls with a boyfriend report that he is older. Of those with an older boyfriend, 60 percent report he is less than two years older, 25 percent say he is two years older, 13 percent say he is more than two years older and 2 percent did not know.

“Girls with boyfriends two or more years older are twice as likely as those with boyfriends less than two years older to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs,” the new report found.

CASA also found that girls whose boyfriends are two or more years older are nearly three times more likely than girls without boyfriends to try those potentially harmful substances.

Teens reporting that “all of their close personal friends” are sexually active are at 71/2 times greater risk for substance abuse than those without sexually active friends, CASA said.

According to the CASA survey, 56 percent of all teens, or 14 million, report having friends who are sexually active, while 42 percent say they have no such friends. The survey reported that 28 percent of 12-year-olds say they have friends who are sexually active.

Teens who spend more than 10 hours a week with their boyfriend or girlfriend are at more than twice the risk of smoking, drinking or using drugs than those who see them less frequently.

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