Parents who forbid their daughters to date older boys may be on the right track. A study published on Thursday finds that teenage girls who associate with older boys are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs. The survey of 1,000 teens found that friends do influence behavior, or at least reflect behavior, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University said. "We found a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and dating and teen risk of smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs," said CASA chairman Joseph Califano, a former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare. The survey, which CASA conducts every year, found that the more time a teen spends with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and the more sexually active friends a teen has, the more likely the child will smoke, drink or use illegal drugs. And girls who date boys two or more years older are much more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Adolescents who spent 25 or more hours a week with a romantic interest were 2.5 times more likely to drink than teens who spent 10 hours or less with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The teens who spent more time romancing were five times more likely to get drunk -- 35 percent of them said they had been drunk compared to 7 percent of the teens who spent less time dating. The study found that 58 percent of girls who had boyfriends two years or more older drank alcohol, compared to 25 percent of the girls who dated boys their own age or not at all. Fifty percent of the girls who went for older boys or men smoked marijuana, compared to 8 percent of the other girls, and 65 percent of these girls who preferred to date someone older than themselves smoked, compared to 14 percent girls who stuck to younger boys. The survey found that 45 percent of the teens said they had been to parties where alcohol was available, 30 percent had been to at least one party where marijuana was available and nine percent where cocaine or Ecstasy was available. But teens welcome their parents' guidance on these issues, the survey found. Asked in the telephone survey what they wished they could "honestly discuss with parents at dinner," 42 percent said dating and 30 percent said substance abuse. The survey had a margin of error of three points, informs Reuters. According to KIROtv, the more sexually active friends a teen has and the more time a teen spends with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the greater the risk that teen will smoke, drink or use drugs, according to the annual report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The study found that compared to teens with no sexually active friends, teens who report half or more of their friends are sexually active are more than 6.5 times likelier to drink; 31 times likelier to get drunk; 22.5 times likelier to have tried marijuana; and more than 5.5 times likelier to smoke. Teens who spend 25 or more hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend are 2.5 times likelier to drink; five times likelier to get drunk; 4.5 times likelier to have tried marijuana; and more than 2.5 times likelier to smoke than teens who spend less than 10 hours a week with a significant other. Girls with boyfriends two or more years older are more than twice as likely to drink; almost six times likelier to get drunk; six times likelier to have tried marijuana; and 4.5 times likelier to smoke than girls whose boyfriends are less than two years older or who do not have a boyfriend. "The message for parents from this year's survey is clear: The thunder of teen sexual activity and dating behavior may signal the lightning of substance abuse," said Joseph Califano Jr., CASA's chairman. In other findings, 44 percent of high school students think that boys at their school often or sometimes "push girls to drink alcohol or take drugs in order to get the girls to have sex or do other sexual things." Forty-five percent of teens have friends who regularly view and download pornography from the Internet; these teens are at increased risk of smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs, according to the study. USATOTAY publishes, that the annual survey, released Thursday, asked teens aged 12-17 about their use of illegal substances. Researchers then looked for other activities of daily life that were associated with such use. "This year's survey reveals a tight connection between teen sexual behavior and substance abuse," said Joseph Califano Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. "Parents who become aware of certain dating and sexual behavior by their children should be alert to the increased likelihood of substance abuse," he said. In a separate effort to discourage underage drinking, the children's cable TV channel Nickelodeon and an advocacy group, The Century Council, were announcing an initiative Thursday to reach out to kids and parents. "Ask, Listen and Learn" aims to educate kids about the issue and to help parents talk with their kids about underage drinking. It is to include booklets, Web sites and TV public service ads aimed at both groups. Unlike other surveys, the one by the Columbia group did not ask teens about their own sexual activity, but asked them to estimate how many of their friends were sexually active. It was conducted this way because the ethical review board that oversees the center would not approve a direct question, said spokeswoman Lauren Duran.
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