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Link of drugs, sex among teens not surprising, ERLC’s Duke says

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WASHINGTON (BP)–A recent study showing a connection between teenage substance use and sexual promiscuity should not come as a surprise, said a Southern Baptist ethics specialist.

Teenagers who drink alcohol or use drugs are much more likely to engage in sexual intercourse, have sex at younger ages and have multiple sexual partners, according to a study recently released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University in New York.

The two-year analysis reported:

— 63 percent of teens who drink alcohol — and 70 percent of teens who drink frequently — have had sex, whereas only 26 percent who have abstained from alcohol have had sex.

— 72 percent of teens who use drugs and 81 percent who are heavy users have had sex, contrasted with 36 percent who never have used drugs.

— Teens 14 years of age and younger who drink alcohol are twice as likely to have sexual intercourse than those who do not.

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— Teens 14 and younger who use drugs are four times as likely to have sex than non-users of the same age.

— Teens 15 and older who drink are seven times as likely to have sex and twice as likely to have it with four or more partners than those who do not drink.

— Teens 15 and older who use drugs are five times as likely to have sex and three times as likely to have four or more sexual partners than those who abstain from drugs.

The study reveals “many of today’s youth are suffering from the effects of a systemic breakdown in moral values,” said Barrett Duke, vice president of research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Many of today’s teenagers are merely the product of their age.

“Their world is more permissive and self-centered than that of any previous generation in the history of our country. Though I am certain that many teenagers in previous generations contemplated having sex and using alcohol and other drugs, today the absence of moral restraint and of the social stigma that used to be associated with immoral behavior encourages teenagers to pursue their inclinations. The use of alcohol and drugs removes what little moral restraint many of today’s teenagers have left,” said Duke, who handles issues relating to alcohol and other drugs for the ERLC.

CASA President Joseph Califano said in a written release, “For parents and religious leaders who believe that sexual abstinence before marriage is a moral imperative, this report signals the particular importance of persuading teens not to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.” Even for those who do not call for sexual abstinence, “this report points up the greater dangers for those teens who drink and use drugs,” said Califano, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter.

Some of the risks include disease and violence, CASA reported.

This country’s rates for sexually transmitted diseases are the highest in the developed world, with about 12 million new cases each year. Among adults, problem drinkers are three times as likely as non-problem drinkers to contract STDs, and drug users are nearly three times as likely as non-users to be infected by such diseases.

Alcohol — whether used by the victim, the attacker or both — is involved in 46 to 75 percent of date rapes of college students. Among imprisoned sex offenders, 38 percent were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime. Women with alcohol and other drug problems are more likely to have been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted.

While Califano said it is unclear whether sexual intercourse or substance use begins first, he said the study “contains a loud and clear message for parents, clergy, school counselors and other caring adults: Whichever teen activity — sex or substance use — first comes to their attention, these adults should be prepared to work with the teen on both matters.”

Among recommendations by CASA for prevention of the problem: Parents should talk to their children about the link between substance abuse and sex, and middle schools and high schools should establish programs that address the connection between substance abuse and sex.

The ERLC’s Duke said adults are responsible for the “moral collapse” of many teenagers and they are “the only ones who can stop the current social meltdown.”

“First, we must restore the moral framework that will give teenagers the restraint they need to resist the immoral messages they hear,” he said.

“Second, we must restrict teenagers’ access to immoral messages, alcohol and drugs.

“Third, we must live moral lives ourselves. If our actions do not support our words, our teenagers will reject our message.

“Fourth, we must call on God to send a revival to our spiritually impoverished nation,” Duke said. “The flesh craves self-gratification; the Spirit craves holiness. We can make laws that stop people from doing what they want to do, but the Spirit of God can change people’s lives. The church remains the best hope for today’s teens.”

The study, titled “Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex,” is partly based on analyses of data from more than 34,000 teens.