Study Links Teen Depression and Drug Use

Teens who use drugs or are sexually active are more likely to later become clinically depressed, according to a report from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE).

Depression may be the result, rather than the cause, of risky teen behaviors. "Findings from the study show depression came after substance and sexual activity, not the other way around," said PIRE researcher Denise Dion Hallfors. Researchers say the results challenge the notion that teens become sexually active or engage in drug use to “self-medicate” their own depression.

Hallfors and colleagues looked at data from surveys of 13,000 teens who were interviewed in 1995 and again in 1996. They found that among girls, both drug use and sex were predictors of future depression -- raising their risk two- or threefold -- but for boys, only frequent marijuana use and high-risk behavior like binge drinking appeared to raise the risk of depression.

"For females, even modest involvement in substance use and sexual experimentation elevates depression risk," the study noted. "In contrast, boys show little added risk with experimental behavior, but binge drinking and frequent use of marijuana contribute substantial risk."

Sources: Halifors, D., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2005; vol 29. News release, Health Behavior News Service, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, CEDARS Research, September 2005.