Depression, Sex, and Drugs Among Teens

When talking about teens, the topics of depression, sex, and drugs strongly coincide. It's almost cliché.

But – like most clichés – there's plenty of truth behind the connection. After all, the basest level analysis tells you much of the story. Adolescent years are a difficult transition for children who become overwhelmed with adult wants and desires. However, they often lack the wisdom and maturity necessary to comprehend this shift in their headspace.

It's a general understanding most of us have garnered, be it through self-awareness of our own teen years, or parenting teenagers ourselves. And the shift from wide-eyed child to the free-falling adolescent can be stark.

Working in the legal system and defending those falsely accused of abusing minors has led us to dig deeper into this topic.

Having studied the behavior patterns of teenagers, thoroughly, has given us vast expertise on the matter. This knowledge has been integral to keeping innocent clients from ending up on the Child Abuse Central Index.

Below is a brief look into what we know about depression, sex, and drugs among teens.

Do "Risk" Behaviors Cause Depression in Teens?

Throughout this article, we'll be reviewing findings from a published research paper: Waller, Hallfors, Halpern, Iritani, Ford, Guo. Gender differences in associations between depressive symptoms and patterns of substance use and risky sexual behavior among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. Archives of Women’s Mental Health (2006) 9: 139-150.

The study assessed in this paper compared teens who avoided common risk behaviors to those who partook. For the research, data was taken from a nationally representative survey of over 20,000 U.S. adolescents. Associations between 16 risk behavior patterns and current depressive symptoms – by gender – were examined through this process.

Results showed that engaging in those potentially harmful acts is linked to heightened likelihood for depressive symptoms in both sexes.

What Are Risk Behaviors?

The study takes a multidimensional approach to assessing teens and links to depression. The paper looks at how substance abuse adversely affects teens' mental health, but it also includes sexual risk behaviors.

It's an important distinction because our own perceptions of “moody” teens tend to only apply to more delinquent behavior. However, engaging in sexual activity is something that could happen with relatively “normal” teens.

A generally well-behaved teen could have a relationship with a significant other. When it becomes sexual, they're now exposed to a whole degree of new entanglements and outcomes that could affect their mental health. Whether it's learning to comprehend such intimacy or harness the complicated feelings that come with sex, for instance, it's a different pathway to depression than drugs.

Alternatively, there is the fact that you can directly connect drugs and drink to sexual activity with teenagers.

It's a chicken-and-egg scenario due to the inability to pinpoint what comes first. Regardless, one behavior correlates with the other, and both impact a teen’s mental health.

What About Genetic Predisposition?

Genes and heredity play a role in depression and depressive symptoms. Does that negate the role that risk behaviors play? No.

While some teenagers might be genetically predisposed to suffering from bouts of depression, alcohol consumption, use of illegal and drugs, overuse of prescription drugs, and sexual activity all can exacerbate such psychological tendencies.

Given that physical and mental health are interrelated and connected, allow an analogy:

When teens who are hereditarily inclined to experience depression partake in risk behaviors, it's akin to someone with diabetes in their genes neglecting exercise and eating poorly. In some cases, these conditions can't be avoided. Yet taking the necessary proactive measures can help neutralize the more negative outcomes.

Are There any Differences between Biological Sexes with Depression and Risk Behavior?

The difference between sexes is worth noting when it comes to risk behaviors and depressive symptoms.

The study finds that when teens abstained from risk behaviors there were no differences between male and female adolescents. Both sexes also showed similar results when it came to more high-risk behaviors.

However, females showed far higher leanings towards depression symptoms for more moderate risk behaviors than males.

Why is This a Crucial Distinction?

The mental health of females is disproportionately impacted by the culture of teenhood (or adolescence). As to why that would be the case requires an article of its own, but it's still vital information.

This suggests that it may be even more difficult to parse out the causes of depressive behavior in female adolescents than it would be in male adolescents. When it comes to allegations of mental abuse or emotional abuse of an adolescent, causation is a crucial element.