Growth in Alcohol Use as a Developmental Predictor of Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Risk-Taking
Adolescent sexual risk-taking is common and often occurs under the influence of alcohol. Although alcohol use emerges in early adolescence, there is little empirical research examining whether growth in alcohol use during this developmental period predicts later risky sexual behavior. Such information could provide a critical opportunity for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted teenage pregnancies. The current study examined alcohol use as a developmental mediator of the relationship between conduct problems, impulsivity, poverty, race and menarche assessed at age 11, and sexual risk-taking among girls at age 16. The sample comprised 499 participants of the Pittsburgh Girls Study (57.7% African American and 42.3% European American) interviewed annually for 6 years between age 11 and 16. The results of the conditioned latent growth curve model showed that the rate of increase in alcohol use, and African American race, predicted higher rates of sexual risk-taking at age 16. However, European American race predicted the intercept and slope of alcohol use. When mediation was tested, the results showed that age 12 use and an increase in propensity for alcohol use between 12 and 15 explained the relationship between European American race and later risky sex, but this was not the case for African American girls. Use of alcohol at age 12 also mediated the association between early menarche and subsequent sexual risk-taking. The implications of the findings for sexual risk prevention are discussed.
KeywordsRisky sex Girls Alcohol use Adolescence Latent growth curves
This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH071790 & MH056630), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA012237), the FISA Foundation, and the Falk Fund. The authors would like to thank the participants and their families for their many contributions to this study.
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