Promiscuity Linked to Drug Addiction

Promiscuity Linked to Drug Addiction

It might seem like having multiple sexual partners would put you at risk for developing a sex addiction, and maybe it does, but interesting recent research says that it ups your chances for being a drug or alcohol addict. Just how this connection works is not perfectly clear, but the data show that having multiple partners is a risk factor for substance abuse. If future studies can tease out the meaning behind this finding, they could help prevent addiction and substance abuse, especially in young people.

Promiscuity Linked to Drug Addiction

The study comes out of New Zealand and researchers at the University of Otago. They surveyed over 1,000 participants about their sexual partners, drug and alcohol use, and other behaviors and attitudes. The survey questioned and tracked the participants, who were all from the same town and born in either 1972 or 1973, over the course of several years and until they were into their mid-30s.

The biggest connection between sexual behaviors and substance abuse was seen in women. Women in the study who had more than two or three partners while in their teens were 10 times more likely to develop a drug addiction or drinking problem by the age of 21. Women with multiple partners in their early 20s were seven times more likely to have an addiction by 26 and, most strikingly, women with multiple partners in their late 20s were 18 times more at risk by the age of 32. A similar but much less exaggerated effect was seen in the male participants. Their risk factors increased only three- or fourfold.

How Can Sex Partners Predict Substance Abuse?

It is impossible to say from the current research just how the two factors, multiple sex partners and substance abuse, affect one another. However, it is easy to speculate and to make some reasonable guesses. The first is that the two are correlated simply because they are both risky behaviors. A teen who makes the choice to sleep with multiple partners is probably also likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol. This teen is impulsive, a known risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. On the other hand, a teen who makes more careful choices and has only one partner might not take a risk with drugs either.

Another possible explanation is related to the psychological impact of having multiple sexual partners. A teen or 20-something engaging in a number of short-term relationships may be struggling with some type of mental illness. The short relationships may make it worse, and using drugs and alcohol may become a coping mechanism or a way to self-medicate. Both could help explain why women in the study saw a greater impact on the risk for addiction with multiple partners. For women, it is less acceptable to have multiple sexual partners, and so engaging in this kind of behavior is riskier than it is for men.

Whatever the reason is for the correlation between substance abuse and multiple partners, the implications are clear. When we understand risk factors for addiction, we get closer to being able to prevent young people from making bad choices and ending up with addictive disorders. Although this current study was conducted in New Zealand, it can easily apply to Americans. Statistics show that 25 percent of young women have had more than two sexual partners. That means a lot of women are at risk for addiction. If educational and preventive programs can emphasize the importance of making good decisions, we could help more young women and men.

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