Teenagers who smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage
in other risky behaviors are more likely to struggle with
drugs and mental health problems as adults, according to
new study findings.
who had problem behaviors before age 15 were particularly
at risk of reporting additional problems as adults. For
instance, 90 percent of men and 60 percent of women who
reported at least four problem behaviors before age 15 abused
drugs, alcohol or nicotine as adults.
Study author Dr. Matt McGue of the University of Minnesota
in Minneapolis noted that teenagers who act out may "change
the course of their development in a way that increases
the likelihood that they will have substance abuse and mental
health problems in adulthood."
Teenagers who take risks may become connected to "deviant
peers," McGue noted, and less connected to schools, parents,
religious groups, and other helpful networks.
Alternatively, some children may inherit an "impulsive
personality style," and as a result, often ignore the long-term
consequences of their behavior. This in turn causes them
to have problems both as teenagers and adults.
During their study, the researchers interviewed 578 male
and 674 female twins at ages 17 and 20 about their behavior
as teenagers, and their issues as adults.
The participants reported if, as teenagers, they had ever
smoked, drank alcohol, used drugs, got in trouble with the
police, or had intercourse. As adults, the participants
answered questions designed to determine if they abused
or were addicted to drugs, alcohol or nicotine, were depressed,
or had developed antisocial personality disorder, a mental
illness associated with deviant behavior.
The investigators found that people who said they engaged
in dangerous behaviors as teenagers were significantly more
likely to report additional problems as adults.
For instance, 90 percent of men and 35 percent of women
who acted out in at least four ways as teenagers developed
antisocial personality disorder.
Another 30 percent of men and 55 percent of women who reported
multiple problem behaviors as teenagers developed depression
as adults, the team reports in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
McGue noted that these results suggest that teenagers who
engage in problem behaviors need "early intervention," to
ensure that their youthful experimentation doesn't snowball
into long-term problems.
"Adolescent experimentation - at least when expressed early
- with drugs and sex, may not be as benign as the broader
culture sometimes seems to suggest," McGue added.
SOURCE: American Journal of Psychiatry, June 2005.