Sexual abuse, alcohol and other drug use, and suicidal behaviors in homeless adolescents

L Rew, M Taylor-Seehafer, M L Fitzgerald
Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 2001, 24 (4): 225-40
Previous research has shown that homeless youth have high rates of suicidal ideation, sexual abuse, and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. However, little is known about how these rates differ by gender and ethnicity. Our objective was to describe patterns of sexual abuse, alcohol and other drug use, and indicators of suicidal behaviors in homeless adolescents and to determine gender and ethnic differences in these factors. We used secondary data analysis of data from surveys completed by 96 homeless youth whose average age was 17.9 years. Over 60% of the sample reported a history of sexual abuse; the majority were under the age of 12 years when they first tried alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine; 56.3% had injected drugs, and 46.9% had tried inhalants. During the past 12 months, 35.1% had seriously considered suicide and 12.3% had actually attempted suicide at least once. Significantly more Hispanics than Whites had considered suicide (chi 2 = 4.31, p = .038). A disproportionate number of Hispanics (95% of the sample) reported a history of sexual abuse. Participants with a history of sexual abuse were significantly more likely than those who did not have a history of sexual abuse to have used alcohol and/or marijuana (chi 2 = 9.93, p < .01) and to have considered suicide in the past 12 months (F = 14.93, p < .001). We found that sexual abuse history is greater in this sample than in the general population and is particularly prevalent among Hispanic/Latino subjects. As in other studies, sexual abuse was more common among females than among males. High prevalence of sexual abuse, alcohol and other drug use, and suicidal behaviors in this sample of homeless youth underscores the need to develop and test community-based interventions to improve their health status.

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