Adolescent Substance Use and Sensation-Seeking on Sexual Behaviors Among Young Adults from Continuation High Schools

Lilia Espinoza, Jean L. Richardson, Kristin Ferguson-Colvin, Chih Ping Chou, Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, Alan W. Stacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Youth from continuation high schools report greater substance use and sensation-seeking than youth from regular high schools, yet their long-term consequences on age at sexual onset and the number of sexual partners are unknown. Objective: To examine substance use, sensation-seeking and sexual behaviors by gender and race/ethnicity and the effects of substance use and sensation-seeking in adolescence on age at sexual initiation and numbers of sexual partners by young adulthood. Methods: Baseline and 4-year follow-up data on youth from 14 continuation high schools in Southern California who participated in a drug abuse prevention intervention were analyzed. Structural equation modeling assessed whether or not substance use or sensation-seeking in adolescence predicted age at sexual onset and numbers of sexual partners by young adulthood. Results: Latinos had lower sensation-seeking and frequency of substance use and a later age at sexual onset than non-Latinos. Males were more likely than females to have multiple lifetime and recent sexual partners. The effects of adolescent substance use on the number of sexual partners by young adulthood were mediated fully by their age at sexual initiation. Sensation-seeking had no direct or indirect effects on sexual behaviors. Conclusions/Importance: Factors leading to and actual sexual risk behaviors among youth from continuation high schools vary by race/ethnicity and gender. Targeting these antecedent factors by race/ethnicity and gender may improve prevention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-383
Number of pages11
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 23 2019



  • Adolescents
  • continuation high schools
  • sensation-seeking
  • sexual behaviors
  • sexual onset
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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