Gender differences in associations between depressive symptoms and patterns of substance use and risky sexual behavior among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents

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This study uses a cluster analysis of adolescents, based on their substance use and sexual risk behaviors, to 1) examine associations between risk behavior patterns and depressive symptoms, stratified by gender, and 2) examine gender differences in risk for depression.


Data are from a nationally representative survey of over 20,000 U.S. adolescents. Logistic regression was used to examine the associations between 16 risk behavior patterns and current depressive symptoms by gender.


Compared to abstention, involvement in common adolescent risk behaviors (drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse) was associated with increased odds of depressive symptoms in both sexes. However, sex differences in depressive symptoms vary by risk behavior pattern. There were no differences in odds for depressive symptoms between abstaining male and female adolescents (OR = 1.07, 95% CI 0.70-1.62). There were also few sex differences in odds of depressive symptoms within the highest-risk behavior profiles. Among adolescents showing light and moderate risk behavior patterns, females experienced significantly more depressive symptoms than males.


Adolescents who engage in risk behaviors are at increased risk for depressive symptoms. Girls engaging in low and moderate substance use and sexual activity experience more depressive symptoms than boys with similar behavior. Screening for depression is indicated for female adolescents engaging in even experimental risk behaviors.

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