Multiple risk behaviors among youth living with human immunodeficiency virus in five U.S. cities

J Adolesc Health. 2010 Jan;46(1):11-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.05.017. Epub 2009 Aug 18.


Purpose: To describe multiple risk behaviors (substance use, sexual risk, and medication adherence) in a multi-site sample of youth living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in five U.S. cites.

Methods: Youth (N=352) were recruited from four Adolescent Trials Network (ATN) sites (Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, and Los Angeles) and one non-ATN site in Detroit and screened for multiple problem behaviors for an intervention study. A substance abuse problem was determined with the CRAFFT, a six-item adolescent screener. Single items were used to screen for current sexual risk and for an HIV medication adherence problem. Of the youth, 239 (68%) had at least one of the three risk behavior problems based on the screener. A total of 186 (52.8%) completed longer, in-depth questionnaires for each problem behavior.

Results: Of the 352 youth screened, 60% had problem level substance use and 42% had a sexual risk problem. Of the 165 (47%) who were prescribed medications, 91 (55%) reported an adherence problem. A total of 112 (32%) reported no problem behavior, 123 (35%) reported 1 problem behavior, 95 (27%) reported 2 problem behaviors, and 20 (6%) reported 3 problem behaviors. Males were more likely to have a substance use problem. Younger youth living with HIV and those perinatally infected were more likely to have an adherence problem. Among the 186 (52.8%) completing longer measures, those with a substance abuse problem had higher substance use on a timeline follow-back procedure than those without. Participants who screened positive for a sexual risk problem reported more unprotected sex on an in-depth interview than those without. Those who screened positive for an adherence problem had higher viral loads than those without an adherence problem.

Conclusions: Results suggest high rates of problem behaviors among youth living with HIV, particularly in older youth. Younger and perinatally infected youth may require specialized adherence interventions. Associations between the screener and more in-depth assessment measures suggest potential clinical utility of screening youth for high-risk behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Long-Term Survivors*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Unsafe Sex
  • Urban Population*
  • Young Adult