The adolescent behavioral repertoire as a context for drug exposure: behavioral autarcesis at play

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Abstract

Aims

The aim of this study is to investigate suspected behavioral autarcesis. Autarcesis refers to a mechanism of non-specific shielding from or immunity to infection or disease. Here, suspecting that some facets of the adolescent behavioral repertoire (ABR) might shield youths from early drug involvement, we studied recent-onset occurrence of first chances to try a drug and first actual drug use, expressed as a function of five observed ABR dimensions: religious, socializing, sports-related, gender socialization, and home-based activities.

Design and participants

Nationally representative samples of school-attending youths were drawn in Panama, the five Spanish heritage countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic (n = 12 797).

Measurements

Drug involvement and ABR were assessed via anonymous self-administered questionnaires.

Findings

A religious activity dimension and a separate sports dimension were associated inversely with recent onset of adolescent drug experiences, and a socializing activity dimension was related to an increased occurrence of these experiences. For example, for each unit increase of the religious activity dimension of the ABR, there was an associated reduced occurrence of the first chance to try tobacco (OR = 0.75, 95% CI: 0.63–0.90, P = 0.002). Adolescents at higher levels of sports activities and home-based activities were less likely to experience recent-onset actual use of marijuana (OR = 0.45, 95% CI: 0.30–0.67, P < 0.001; OR = 0.56, 95% CI: 0.32–0.99, P = 0.048, respectively).

Conclusions

The study evidence lends some support for behavioral autarcesis. Manipulation of selected ABR dimensions might help prevent or reduce adolescent drug involvement, enhancing autarcesis as a protective mechanism.

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