Frequency of Alcohol Use in Adolescence as a Marker for Subsequent Sexual Risk Behavior in Adulthood

We have had the opportunity of interviewing Dr. Maureen Muchimba, a Research Associate at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at University of Colorado at Boulder. Her recent paper, titled Frequency of Alcohol Use in Adolescence as a Marker for Subsequent Sexual Risk Behavior in Adulthood. was published in the journal Journal of Adolescent Health. The paper studies the relationship between risky behaviors in adolescence and in later life.

Please tell us very briefly about your own background and research interests.

I am a public health professional with a doctoral degree in Public Health. My research interests include sexual risk, substance use and other risky behaviors that put people at risk for adverse health outcomes, particularly among young people.

What led you to this study?

I have always been interested in risky behaviors and how individuals’ personal characteristics or environments increase or reduce the risk for these behaviors.

What were your findings?

This study showed that those who consumed alcohol more frequently in adolescence were also more likely to engage in riskier sexual behavior in adulthood. Although frequent drinking of alcohol is not a cause of sexual risk behavior, drinking patterns of individuals may be useful to health interventions by helping them to identify those who may be more likely engage in riskier sexual behavior in adulthood.

How can we use these findings?

Drinking patterns of individuals may help characterize those who may be more likely engage in riskier sexual behavior in adulthood. Thus, this could guide health programs on how to tailor their messages so that pertinent messages are targeted at appropriate groups. Of course we are not saying that if a person drank more frequently in adolescence, the result will be sexual risk behavior in adulthood. The drinking and the risky sex could be due to underlying individual factors such as having a general vulnerability to disinhibitory behaviors, which may include frequent drinking and risky sexual behavior. Still, people who exhibit this vulnerability might need to be targeted with specific health messages.

What do you plan to do with these findings?

The findings are available to health promotion programs that might find them useful as they design their interventions.

What are ways to increase awareness around this?

  • Inform preventive programs regarding drinking patterns and subsequent sexual risk behavior
  • Encourage them to not only consider individuals’ current but also their earlier drinking behavior.

Any advice for people getting into your field?

You need to be passionate about research. At times, the problems that need to be researched may be complex so you need to be prepared for that. It is also important to have an open mind because sometimes we do not get the outcome we expected, but that can be interesting because it can lead to other research questions. You also need to be prepared to work collaboratively with other researchers.

Please tell us a little more about your department

The Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG) is an organized research unit of the University of Colorado Graduate School dedicated to conducting and facilitating research on the genetic and environmental bases of individual differences in behavior. Research at IBG includes studies of aging, neurodegenerative disease, psychopathology, reading and learning disabilities, cognition, substance abuse, behavioral development, and evolution. Data collection and analysis are ongoing for several internationally renowned studies including the Colorado Adoption Project, the Colorado Twin Registry, the National Youth Survey Family Study, the Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Center, and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. For this research study, we worked closely with the Division of Substance Dependence in the Department of Psychiatry at Anschutz Medical Campus.