Purpose: To investigate the association of psychological distress and health risk behaviors among HIV infected adolescents. It was hypothesized that higher levels of distress would be associated with increased sexual risk behaviors, and increased use of alcohol and drugs.
Methods: HIV infected adolescents (N = 323) were recruited into an observational study in 15 clinical sites; for the 323 subjects, a total of 1212 visits were used in a repeated measures analysis. Data on depression (using the CES-D), anxiety (manifest anxiety scale), sexual behaviors and alcohol and marijuana use were obtained through computer-assisted self-administered interview.
Results: Approximately 65% of the sample was sexually active across all six study visits, with approximately 43% consistently reporting having unprotected sex at last intercourse. Higher levels of depression were associated with frequent alcohol use and with unprotected sex at last intercourse, with depressed adolescents significantly more likely to have had unprotected sex than those who were not depressed. Health anxiety was associated with frequent marijuana use and with recent sexual activity, and physiological anxiety was also associated with recent sexual activity.
Conclusions: Despite the fact that these HIV infected adolescents are all engaged in primary care, overall the sample is maintaining its high-risk sexual behavior. In addition, these adolescents may be self-medicating to deal with health-related anxiety. Health interventions for HIV infected adolescents should examine whether psychological distress is contributing to maintenance health risk behaviors.