Published Online: September 24, 2004
Published in Print: September 22, 2004, as Dating Habits Correlated With Substance Abuse

Health Update

Dating Habits Correlated With Substance Abuse

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A survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has concluded that there is a correlation between teenage dating habits and the risk of substance abuse.

"We found a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and dating and teen risk of smoking, drinking, and using illegal drugs," Joseph A. Califano, the center’s chairman and president, said in a statement.

The center, based at Columbia University, surveyed 1,000 youths ages 12 to 17 and 500 parents nationwide. It found that teenagers who spend more than 25 hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend are more than twice as likely to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco and four times as likely to have tried marijuana than teenagers who spend less than 10 hours in such relationships.

Center officials called the findings "striking," and said they hope the survey data can be used to better inform parents about the possible warning signs of teenage substance abuse.

Critics, however, contend that the center is trying to make connections that are not scientifically proven.

"They’re taking random, unrelated survey results and presenting them as if there could be a causal link," said Steve Fox, the director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based organization that lobbies for allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

But Steven Wagner, the president of Washington-based QEV Analytics, which produced the survey data, disputed the idea that the center was making a causal link.

Rather, he said, it has simply established statistical correlations that are representative of the nation.

"Sure, we’re saying things that most people’s grandmothers already know," Mr. Wagner said. "But it’s different to have real, hard data" as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

Vol. 24, Issue 04, Page 13

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