By Diana Zuckerman, PhD
A study of dating violence published in September 2003 found a link with high-risk behaviors such as drug use.
The study is based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, known as Add Health, a survey conducted in the homes of more than 4,600 youths ages 11-21, who were first interviewed in 1995 and followed up approximately one year later.
This recent study focused on “intimate partner abuse,” which was defined as verbal abuse or mild forms of physical abuse, such as insulting you, treating you disrespectfully in front of others, swearing at you, threatening you with violence, pushing or shoving you, or throwing something at you that could hurt you. More severe physical or sexual abuse were excluded, and the survey did not measure if the person interviewed was abusive to others.
Most (69%) of the students were white, 14% black and 13% Hispanic. Thirty-eight percent had no intimate partners when they were interviewed in 1995, and 32% had none when interviewed a year later. Some 273 boys (12%) and 302 girls (14%) reported abuse by at least one intimate partner between the first interview in 1995 and the second one approximately one year later.
Those who reported abuse starting between the first and second interview were more likely to report illicit substance use, antisocial behavior, violent behavior, suicidal behavior and depressed mood at the initial interview and one year later. Illicit substances included tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Antisocial behavior included theft, lying to parents, running away from home, destruction of property, and similar behaviors. Violence in the past year included a physical fight, injuring someone, a group fight, threatening someone with a weapon, using a weapon in a fight, shooting or stabbing someone. Suicidal behavior was measured in terms of the frequency of thinking about suicide or attempting it.
The impact of dating violence differed for boys and girls. For boys, abuse starting after the first interview led to a greater decline in antisocial behavior, even though that behavior was still greater than for non-abused boys. For girls, abuse starting after the first interview was associated with increased levels of illegal substance use.
Not surprisingly, when the researchers adjusted for social class and demographic factors, reporting greater levels of abuse and having greater numbers of sexual partners was associated with more depression for both girls and boys.
What can adults do with these findings? Some adults may observe the kinds of abuse measured by this study. Those who don’t might consider how other symptoms they observe in teens, such as depression or drug use, might be warning signs that dating violence is happening.
Roberts T, Klein J, Fisher S. Longitudinal Effect of Intimate Partner Abuse on High-Risk Behavior Among Adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2003, 157, pg 875-881