Depression Suicide Does Sex and Drug Use Increase Teen Suicide Risk? By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 27, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Medically reviewed by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP Facebook LinkedIn Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC. 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If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Plus, the rates of depression and suicide among U.S. teenagers have been increasing for decades. Although many factors are involved in this increase, several studies suggest an association between suicide and high-risk behaviors like sex and drug use. Press Play to Learn More About Suicide & Suicidal Ideation Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychiatrist Mark Goulston, shares why people have suicidal thoughts, why you shouldn't blame yourself if you've lost someone to suicide, and what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts. Click below to listen now. Follow Now : Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts A Closer Look at the Research When it comes to high-risk behaviors, one study found that teens who engage in things like drinking, smoking, or sexual activity were more vulnerable to depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. The study also found that the odds ratios were highest among teens who engaged in drug use. However, it's important to note that a direct cause and effect has not been established. Instead, risky behaviors and suicide are more likely to occur together. For instance, researchers of a more recent study of Korean teens found that although 35% of teen drug users attempted suicide, these teens were also more likely to have existing mental health issues. These findings suggest that drug use and mental health issues, including the risk for suicide, may occur together. Likewise, the researchers found that depression and use of multiple drugs were independent risk factors. And, while they noted that violence victimization and excessive alcohol use were also associated with suicide attempts, these were no longer significant contributing factors after adjustment for other variables. Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of 43 different studies with nearly 900,000 participants noted that there is a strong connection between substance abuse disorders and suicidal ideation, attempts, and even death. Based on the evidence they reviewed, they concluded that illicit drug use of any type should be considered an important risk factor for suicide. While there’s little doubt these factors can contribute to poor mental health for teens, the relationship between all of these factors is complex. Researchers in all the studies maintain that teens who are engaged in risky behaviors like drug use, sexual activity, vaping, and binge drinking also should be screened for suicidal ideation. For instance, when treating and preventing drug use, it would be wise to also ask about suicidal thoughts and plans. Teens may need help in dealing with both issues as they progress through recovery. Whether or not these factors and behaviors cause suicidal ideation in teens, it's important to know that they're certainly associated with it. What's more, if you see any of these activities in your teen's life, it's important to be vigilant. Teen Sex and Depression Simply engaging in sexual behaviors doesn't automatically mean a teen will become depressed or commit suicide—the type of relationship and its context may make a difference. For instance, in 2018, a team of researchers at Cornell found that teens who engage in casual, non-romantic sex, or “hookups,” may be more prone to developing depression than their sexually-active peers who are in stable relationships. Likewise, another study found the age in which sex is initiated also is a contributing factor for depression, especially among girls. For instance, the researchers assessed more than 4,000 teens and found that female teens who had sex before they were 17 years old were more likely to experience depression. Meanwhile, other studies have indicated that sexually-active teens who participate in “sexting” may be more likely to have mental health problems as well as be more likely to be delinquent. It's important to note that sexually-motivated behaviors and activities may influence mental health for teens. For this reason, parents need to be aware of the risks associated with sexual activity at a young age and take time to talk to their kids about sex and consent. How Self-Esteem Influences Teen Sex Behavior Substance Use and Depression Research from 2018 indicates that teens are using drugs and alcohol at lower rates than in previous decades. Exceptions to these trends include marijuana use, which has rates that have remained steady and vaping, which has rates that have significantly increased. What's more, teens are more likely to use marijuana every day rather than cigarettes. In fact, in response to an annual National Institutes of Health survey, fewer teens in school now disapprove of regular marijuana use. But what is the link between drug use and suicide? According to one study, there is a causal connection between drug use and suicide. For instance, researchers discovered that substance abuse is related to more suicidal behavior in both girls and boys. Additionally, they noted that substance use also may cause teens to struggle in their relationships with peers as well as fail to meet daily obligations like attending school or completing schoolwork—all of which increase the risk for suicide. The researchers also indicated that the effects of drug use may impair a teen's judgment, reduce inhibition, and decrease impulse control, which also may contribute to suicidal behavior. Screening and Treatment If your child is engaging in high-risk behaviors like sex or drug use, it's important that you also consider the possibility that it can increase their risk for suicide. So be sure you are aware of the signs of suicide and work closely with your teen's doctors and counselors. Additionally, it's important to note the differences between causes and risk factors. When it comes to teen drug use and sexual activity, these two behaviors increase a teen's risk for suicide, but they do not necessarily cause it. Still, the connection is important and should be considered. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adolescents and teens be screened for depression. And it's especially important to screen teens for depression if they report having sex and/or using drugs. Likewise, any teen who reports engaging in these behaviors, especially if their use is more than just dabbling, should also be screened for suicidal ideation. If you know your teen is engaging in these behaviors, ask your child's doctor to screen them for depression and suicide risk. Likewise, keep talking to your teens about the risks associated with sexual activity and drug use. In fact, studies have shown that harm reduction approaches are most effective especially when compared to abstinence-only sex education. Additionally, providing information about and access to contraceptives does not lead to increased sexual activity. The same is true regarding suicide. Talking about it with your teen doesn't give them ideas or increase the likelihood that they will take their life. Instead, it shows that you are someone they can talk to and be honest about their feelings. Teen Suicide Warning Signs and Prevention A Word From Verywell For teens, emerging sexuality, peer pressure, and exposure to drugs and alcohol can cause stress in their lives. For this reason, it's important that you understand how these behaviors can sometimes co-exist with depression and even suicide. This understanding includes being able to use these facts to talk with your teen freely about these topics and without shame. Preteens and teens also need access to accurate and actionable information as well as resources to help them become more informed about their sexual health, drug use, and mental health issues. Consequently, it's a good idea to help them recognize the signs of suicide risk, substance abuse, and depression and point them toward resources available at school or within your community. Myths About Teen Suicide 17 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicidal ideation and behaviors among high school students — youth risk behavior survey, United States, 2019. Miron O, Yu KH, Wilf-Miron R, Kohane IS. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA. 2019;321(23):2362-2364. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5054 Ammerman BA, Steinberg L, McCloskey MS. Risk-taking behavior and suicidality: the unique role of adolescent drug use. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018;47(1):131-141. doi:10.1080/15374416.2016.1220313 Hallfors DD, Waller MW, Ford CA, Halpern CT, Brodish PH, Iritani B. Adolescent depression and suicide risk: association with sex and drug behavior. Am J Prev Med. 2004;27(3):224-31. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.06.001 Park S, Song H. Factors that affect adolescent drug users' suicide attempts. 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Pediatrics. 2016;137(3):e20154467. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-4467 Slemon A, Jenkins EK, Haines-Saah RJ, Daly Z, Jiao S. "You can't chain a dog to a porch": a multisite qualitative analysis of youth narratives of parental approaches to substance use. Harm Reduct J. 2019;16(1):26. doi:10.1186/s12954-019-0297-3 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.