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Adolescent arrest history influences risk of acquiring HIV

Substance abuse and sexual behavior contribute to increased risk

Adolescents with a history of arrest are at greater risk for HIV infection than adolescents with no arrest history, according to a new study published in the November issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Researchers from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and Brown Medical School attribute higher rates of substance abuse, sexual risk behaviors and mental health issues to the increased risk of infection.

Study participants included adolescents ages 15 to 21 who were categorized into two groups – arrestees and non-arrestees. Researchers at sites in Rhode Island, Georgia and Florida assessed both groups of adolescents in terms of their alcohol and drug use, substance abuse during sex, unprotected sex acts, sexually transmitted infection diagnoses, attitudes about substance use and unprotected sex, suicide attempts and psychiatric hospitalizations.

"We found that adolescents with a history of arrest were significantly more likely to use alcohol and drugs, engage in unprotected sex acts, use a substance during sex and have significant mental health histories than adolescents without a history of arrest," says lead author Marina Tolou-Shams, PhD, staff psychologist at the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and assistant professor (research) at Brown Medical School.

This study was unique because it categorized participants based upon their history of arrest regardless of the severity of their offense. "Prior research has demonstrated that incarcerated or detained youth have higher rates of mental health problems, substance use and sexual risk-taking behaviors that significantly increase their risk of contracting HIV. Our findings extend the prior research to suggest that any type of arrest history, not necessarily one that results in incarceration or detention, can serve as a marker for sexual risk, substance abuse and a history of mental health difficulties."

In addition, researchers found that attitudes about substance abuse and unprotected sex also differed between the two groups of participants. Adolescents with a history of arrest viewed unprotected sex and using drugs during sex more favorably than those who had not been arrested. "Understanding risk attitudes in this population can help to inform the development of HIV prevention interventions for juvenile justice youth thereby potentially altering the interventions' impact," says Tolou-Shams.

The researchers note that the results of this study could have important public health implications for the best time to identify adolescents considered at risk for HIV.

"The time of arrest provides a window of opportunity to identify adolescents at risk for HIV," says Tolou-Shams. " By addressing substance abuse and other risk factors upon their first contact with the justice system and providing resources to help change their attitudes toward risky behavior - their chances of contracting HIV could be reduced considerably."

Lynn Hall | EurekAlert!
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