Pregnancy More Likely in Teens that Smoke, Drink, and Use Drugs

A teen using drugs

The statement “when it rains it pours” describes how things can always get worse and that bad incidents are rarely singular occurrences. When teenagers get into trouble, it is a result of several poor decisions. Researchers are constantly trying to find links between unwanted behavior and what causes them. Psychiatry researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has reported that high school students who smoke, drink, use drugs, carry a weapon to school, and get involved in risky behavior are more likely to become pregnant or impregnate a sexual partner. According to the study, it was not just one pregnancy, but multiple.

Developing Brain

Research on the human brain has uncovered a surprising discovery of changes that take place during the teen years in the brain. These findings help to better understand why mortality rates increase, death by injury are six times higher, crime rates increase, and substance abuse heighten during the teenage years. A teenager’s decision to use and abuse substances are a result of their genes, childhood experiences, and environment. By scanning the developing brain of individuals from birth to the age of twenty, scientists were beginning to put together the unknown pieces of the brain’s development. The thin membrane called grey matter, a folding outer layer or cortex of the brain, increases and decreases during childhood. While the scans do not clear all questions about the brain, what can be stated is that different parts of the cortex, part of the brain that controls memory and thought, develop and mature at different rates. For example, basic functions for senses and controlling movement develop early. While, more complex “top-down” decision making capability part of the cortex develop much later.

An interpretation of the developing teenage mind is that while their ability to create emotional responses is fully available, their ability to make impulsive responses is still developing. This imbalance can better describe the destructive ‘base’ of adolescents’ decision making. Having a heightened emotional ability in conjunction with unbalanced responses, teens are more prone to making impulsive decisions without weighing the risks.

Teen Pregnancy

Teen pregnancy as a social problem has been in decline over the last few years.  The decline cannot be contributed to abstinence, but rather, teenagers are more sexually active than ever but are using contraceptive methods more than previous generations. Unfortunately, there are still a high percentage of teens that are putting themselves at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by not using protection. By analyzing the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Cavazos-Regh, found that high school students who actively participated in risky behaviors like smoking, drugs use, and drinking were more likely to become pregnant or impregnate a partner. In this study, the researchers found that substance-using males and females were the least likely to use contraceptives. Teen males that smoked, drank alcohol, used marijuana, and cocaine were the least likely to use any form of contraceptive. Teenagers that are willing to take risks like using drugs or drinking alcohol are more likely to take similar risks with their sexual behavior.

What to Do

While teenage drug use and sexual activity seems like insurmountable enemies for parents, teachers, and counselors to battle, it is not. The developing teenage mind is more likely to make poor decisions, but with proper guidance, teenagers can make better choices. Recent studies have shown that open and honest communication between parents and teenagers can thwart the risky behavior teenagers are prone to make. Teenagers need proper advice, open conversation, and defined rules. The research proves that teens who participate in risky behaviors like substance abuse are more likely than those who are not to become pregnant or impregnate a partner. The way to reduce the likelihood of teenage pregnancy is to reiterate proper decision making practices and to be firm with consequences.

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