Prior studies have found that risky sexual behavior is often associated with mental health issues and other high-risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, school problems, delinquency and suicide attempts. However, this is one of the first studies to show that not all high-risk adolescents have the same types of risk behaviors, and therefore some are at higher risk for HIV than others. The authors found that there are subgroups within a high-risk population in which patterns of risks like unprotected sex, mental health crises and substance abuse exist at the same time, and also vary by gender.
“This study tells us that not all risky adolescents have the same risk behaviors and that the patterns seem to be different between boys and girls. It's also important because it suggests that programs designed for adolescents?specific risk profiles may be most useful in helping them change their behavior,?says lead author, Christopher Houck, PhD, a psychologist with the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center.
The study appears in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
Researchers identified three patterns of risk behavior among 1,153 high-risk boys and three patterns among high-risk girls ages 15-21 in Atlanta, Miami, and Providence. They found that the group of boys at highest risk for HIV (i.e., practiced the most unprotected sex) also had more mental health problems, such as psychiatric hospitalization or suicide attempts, than other study participants. By contrast, amongst the girls, two distinct profiles emerged: the cluster with the highest amount of unsafe sex repo