Impact of self-esteem and academic achievement on substance use and sexual initiation differs among boys and girls

Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372

A new study focused on adolescent risk-taking shows that high self-esteem, measured during an initial survey of 1,670 students enrolled in grades 7 through 12, was associated with lower odds of substance abuse in the following year among girls, but not among boys. Self-esteem was not significantly correlated with first sexual intercourse (sexual debut) 1 year later among girls or boys, according to Stephanie B. Wheeler, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina. In addition, higher academic performance in school was associated with less risky activities among young girls. Female students with "A" averages had significantly lower odds of sexual debut 1 year later compared with students with "C" averages and below.

In addition, female students with "A" or "B" averages at baseline had lower odds of illegal substance abuse in the following year, but neither self-esteem nor grades had a significant effect on substance abuse after 1 year for male students. Neither self-esteem nor academic performance at baseline had significant effects on adolescent risk-taking 6 to 7 years later.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), the study first surveyed students in 1994-1995 and subsequently in 1995-1996 and 2001-2002. The finding that early sexual intercourse was strongly associated with subsequent substance use, and vice-versa, suggests that these activities are mutually reinforcing. As such, a behavioral intervention targeting multiple types of risky behaviors youths encounter may be warranted, suggests Dr. Wheeler. She adds that since results varied sharply by gender, thoughtfully designed, gender-specific interventions to prevent early sexual debut and substance use in adolescence may be appropriate. This research was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00032).

See "Effects of self-esteem and academic performance on adolescent decision-making: An examination of early sexual intercourse and illegal substance use," by Dr. Wheeler, in the Journal of Adolescent Health 47, pp. 582-590, 2010.

Current as of August 2011
Internet Citation: Impact of self-esteem and academic achievement on substance use and sexual initiation differs among boys and girls: Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372. August 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/aug11/0811RA17.html