Adolescents and young people continue to be vulnerable, both socially and economically, to HIV infection despite efforts to date. The psychological and social risks that adolescents experience can have a lasting impact on adulthood.
When those risks include drug use, mental distress and exposure to violence, they may engage in unsafe sexual behavior that increases their chance of HIV infection, according to a new longitudinal study by the University of Michigan.
"Our findings support the notion that the increasing frequency of psychosocial risk factors experienced during adolescence may have effects on HIV risk behaviors decades later," said study lead author David Cordova, U-M assistant professor of social work.
One out of four respondents who had a relatively higher frequency of co-occurring psychological and social risk as adolescents were more likely to report unprotected sex with recent partners, as well as sexual intercourse with someone they just met in adulthood.
In addition, they were more likely to use illegal drugs prior to sex, and had at least four sexual partners. This segment was more vulnerable to HIV risk than those who were part of the low frequency of risk group, which had fewer instances of drug use, violence and mental distress during adolescence.
Since the study mainly involved African-American respondents, the findings may not be generalized to all adolescent populations, Cordova said.