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Forced Sexual Encounters Among the Many Causes of Teen Drug Use

Teen girl on drugs with hands up in an abandoned building to stop sexual abuse  

According to new research, one in 16 women say they have experienced a forced sexual situation, usually in their teen years and typically with someone older than them. Forced sexual encounters may be linked to teen drug use, mental health conditions and other ongoing mental and physical health issues.

Forced Sexual Initiation in Teen Years

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study looked at a sample of more than 13,000 women between the ages of 18 and 44. When scaling the data, researchers say the responses amount to around three million U.S. women in the age group who have experienced a forced sexual situation.

Researchers believe the number is far lower than reality. There may be many women across the country who have experienced sexual assault without consent but don’t feel comfortable saying so. The research also found that women who were forced to have sex during their initial sexual encounters were likely to be younger than women who first experienced a consensual sexual situation.

Ongoing Health Repercussions

The question of what causes teens to use drugs is one that’s frequently discussed. However, it’s possible that not enough emphasis is being placed on how forced sexual activity can influence teen substance use. Other health consequences can also be linked to forced sexual initiation during the teen years.

Compared to women who first experienced a voluntary sexual experience, women who were forced were more likely to experience:

  • Unwanted pregnancy or abortion
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Problems with menstruation and ovulation
  • Higher rates of illicit drug use
  • Living below the poverty lines
  • Lower education levels

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, between 25% and 75% of people who survive violent or abusive experiences also report alcohol misuse. Women who are exposed to trauma have an increased likelihood of alcohol use disorder. In addition, teen sexual assault victims are 4.5 times more likely to misuse alcohol or develop dependence. These teens are also four times more likely to develop marijuana dependence and nine times more likely to experience illicit drug use or dependence.

Teaching Consent to Teens

The issue of how to teach consent to teens is one that’s getting more attention in recent years. It’s an important discussion, particularly because forced sexual initiation is one of the main causes of teen drug use and other adverse health outcomes. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), the conversation about consent should begin at an early age. It’s recommended to start in an age-appropriate way during preschool and continue through high school.

HGSE states that by the time teens reach high school, the conversation should be one that’s inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations. There should also be conversations about the role of substances like alcohol and what this can mean for consent. Consent shouldn’t just be a conversation that takes place in sex education classrooms.

Help for Victims of Sexual Assault and Drug Abuse

There are resources for victims of sexual assault who struggle with drug misuse as a result. Next Generation Village offers compassionate dual diagnosis care and comprehensive teen drug treatment, and our personalized plans make sure to consider the role of trauma and sexual assault. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans that can work well for your teen.


Hawks, Laura; et al. “Association Between Forced Sexual Initiation and Health Outcomes Among US Women.” JAMA Network, September 16, 2019. Accessed October 14, 2019.

Tatter, Grace. “Consent at Every Age.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, December 19, 2018. Accessed October 14, 2019.

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. “Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems.” (n.d.). Accessed October 14, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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