Friday, March 18, 2016

Pathways to Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: Effects of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure

  • Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) was related to adolescent sexual risk.
  • PCE is related to externalizing behavior, which increased early sexual intercourse.
  • Substance use was related to early sexual intercourse and sexual risk behaviors.
  • Reducing maternal drug use may mitigate offspring sexual risk behavior.
To assess the impact of prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) on adolescent sexual risk behaviors. Externalizing behavior, teen substance use, and early sexual intercourse were examined as pathways mediating the effects of PCE on sexual risk behaviors.

Adolescents (N=364; 185 PCE, 179 non-cocaine exposure (NCE); 205 girls, 159 boys), primarily African-American and of low socioeconomic status, were prospectively enrolled in a longitudinal study at birth. Risky sexual behaviors were assessed at ages 15 and 17. Externalizing behavior at 12 years was assessed with the Youth Self-Report. Substance use, via self-report and biologic assays, and early (before age 15) sexual intercourse were assessed at age 15. Path analyses with the weighted least squares estimator with mean and variance adjustments were performed.

The final structural equation model-based path model, χ(2)=31.97 (df=27), p=.23, CFI=.99, TLI=.99, RMSEA=.021, WRMR=.695, indicated a direct effect of PCE on sexual risk behavior (β=.16, p=.02). Although PCE was related to greater externalizing behavior (β=.14, p=.009), which in turn, predicted early sexual intercourse (β=.16, p=.03), leading to sexual risk behavior (β=.44, p<.001), bootstrapping indicated a non-significant indirect effect (β=.01, p>.10). Substance use was correlated with early sexual intercourse (r=.60, p<.001) and predicted sexual risk behavior by age 17 (β=.31, p=.01).

Prenatal cocaine exposure was related to more engagement in sexual risk behaviors, suggesting the importance of reducing substance use among pregnant women as a means of prevention of offspring substance use and sexual risk behavior.

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  • 1Case Western Reserve University, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Cleveland, OH, United States. Electronic address:
  • 2Case Western Reserve University, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Cleveland, OH, United States.
  • 3School of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Cleveland, OH, United States.
  • 4Departments of Environmental Health Sciences, Psychiatry & Pediatrics, Cleveland, OH, United States. 
  •  2016 Apr 1;161:284-91. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.02.013. Epub 2016 Feb 16.

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