Sex Differences in Risky Behavior and Depression

Many teens often partake in risky behaviors. These actions are best described as engaging in sexual acts, drug use, and alcohol consumption.

Of course, there are varying degrees in how most teens tend to partake. Some studies find that a majority of teens engage in some sort of sexual behavior, and a significant number of adolescents use or experiment with drugs and alcohol.

The Vulnerability of Adolescence

One research paper brings up an interesting paradox. See Lindsey Hammerslag & Joshua Gulley. Sex differences in behavior and neural development and their role in adolescent vulnerability to substance use. Behavioral Brain Research 298 (2016) 15-26.

Namely, in a person's teen years, body-wise, they are at their healthiest. But at the same time, from childhood to adolescence there is a steep rise in accidental injury, accidental death, suicide, and homicide. This is a society-wide phenomenon.

Coupled with the above findings, nonfatal injuries and suicide attempts reach their height between the ages of 15 and 19. Once we enter adulthood, those numbers drop back down.

The article being discussed points out that the spike in accidental injuries and deaths might stem from adolescent behavioral changes. These cause questionable, riskier decisions and trigger sensation-seeking activities at the beginning of adolescence. The developed capacity to control inhibitions does not match the heightened appetite for high-risk excitement and sensations until middle adolescence.

That uneven balance is what leads to drug experimentation amongst adolescents.

It's also worth noting that experimental substance use can increase adolescents' risk of developing drug and alcohol abuse issues. Furthermore, there's a heightened vulnerability to psychosocial problems.

Interestingly, however, teen males and females are impacted differently by these risk behaviors.

Teen Females Feel the Brunt of the Negative Effects of Risk Behaviors

According to the research paper referred to above, “there is a sex (or gender) difference in this vulnerability, with females being more prone to developing internalizing disorders and males being more likely to engage in risky behavior and drug use.”

For instance, studies show that males who cease abusing alcohol at the end of their teens tend to go on relatively unscathed. Their psyche is that of someone who never really drank much to begin with.

Conversely, females that no longer abused alcohol tend to move onto other risky behaviors. Such behaviors include illegal drug use, antisocial behavior, and social dysfunction. Other findings show that, during the teen years, males use drugs more frequently than girls. Females lean towards drinking alcohol and non-medical psychotherapeutic drugs than boys.

Also, women between the ages of 12 and 17 show a higher rate of cocaine abuse and dependency.

The research paper discusses the idea that adolescent females are less likely to abuse drugs due to cultural factors, but teen girls are more vulnerable to experiencing problems, challenges and negative consequences as a result of their substance abuse.

Preclinical studies with lab rats showed the female rats being more sensitive to the rewarding properties of drugs.

It's also worth pointing out that the research implies that girls use drugs as a coping mechanism, whereas young men use them to appease their hunger for stimulated sensation. This would explain why teen females are more susceptible to abuse and addiction.

Since females are also more susceptible to developing anxiety and depression, they're more likely to self-medicate with harder substances.

How Can These Sex Differences Impact Cases of False Child Abuse Allegations?

There's no way to directly point out how these differences would impact every case as a general matter. We do find that most teenagers who make false child abuse allegations are experiencing some sort of mental health challenge or engaging in risky behavior (or both).

As we gather information on any particular case, this kind of information helps us paint a complete picture of a witness, an accuser, or even a client. Knowing of a predisposition towards specific risk behaviors can help us ask the kinds of questions that give answers that help clear our clients’ names.

What Have We Learned?

As a final disclaimer, while sexual activity isn’t directly discussed throughout the research, it is directly connected to drug and alcohol use during adolescence.

The teen years can be challenging for both males and females, but adolescent females seem to be more at risk of more harmful consequences. We see this through their propensity for harder substances like cocaine to self medicate and internalize. This vulnerability can lead to dysfunctional, antisocial behavior that lasts the rest of their lives.