A Black Eye in Teen Romance

Teen dating violence victims have poorer mental health outcomes as adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Patterns of violence in romantic relationships often start young. And the effects of dating violence in the teen years carry over into the adult years.

A recent study found teens who experienced teen dating violence were at higher risk for various mental health problems as adults. Both the boys and girls who were victimized as teens were more likely to have suicidal thoughts and future dating violence problems.

The girls were more likely to smoke and drink, and the boys were more likely to smoke pot and act with antisocial behaviors.

"Get help if you're in an abusive relationship."

The study, led by Deinera Exner-Cortens, MPH, from the Department of Human Development and Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University in New York, looked at how teens fared in the long term if they experienced dating violence. The researchers used data from 5,681 students, aged 12 to 18, who were involved in a large national study of adolescent health between 1994 and 2002.

All the teens analyzed in this study reported dating experiences during the survey in 1996 and were then included in the follow-up five years later at ages ranging from 18 to 25. Some of the questions in the first survey related to whether the teens had experienced physical or psychological abuse from partners they were dating.

Researchers then assessed the young adults at follow-up for symptoms of depression, antisocial behaviors, sexual risk-taking, self-esteem levels, weight management issues, suicidal thoughts or attempts, substance use and dating violence victimization as adults.

The researchers found women who were victimized in dating experiences as teens were 53 percent more likely to smoke and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than women who did not experience dating violence in their adolescence. They also showed more symptoms of depression than non-abused girls.

Even the females who only experienced psychological abuse in their teenage relationships were 44 percent more likely to drink heavily than those who didn't have these experiences.

Both men and women who had experienced dating violence during their teenage years were approximately three times as likely to experience it as adults as well.

Meanwhile, men who had been psychologically abused in teen relationships were more likely to show antisocial behaviors and were 34 percent more likely to smoke marijuana than men who were not victimized in their romantic relationships as teens. They were also almost twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.

These findings all held true when the researchers took into account the participants' age, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds as based on their parents' education levels.

"The results of this study suggest that in this sample, teen dating violence victimization experienced during adolescence was related to adverse health outcomes in young adulthood," the researchers wrote.

"Five years after victimization, female victims reported increased heavy episodic drinking, depressive symptomatology, suicidal ideation, smoking, and adult intimate partner violence victimization, whereas male victims reported increased antisocial behaviors, suicidal ideation, marijuana use, and adult intimate partner violence victimization, compared with individuals reporting no victimization," they wrote.

LuAnn Pierce, a social worker in Colorado and a dailyRx expert, said the biggest takeaway from this study is understanding the importance of getting help for teens who are victimized.

"The long term effects of victimization are often under-reported or minimized," she said. "Study after study finds that those who are victims of abuse have higher rates of mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder."

Pierce added that learning the skills to effectively cope with depression and anxiety, abuse and loss of control requires time, patience and professional help.

"We should no more expect teens who are victimized to know how to cope or shake it off with no residual effects than we would expect them to heal their own broken bones," Pierce said. "Although they may be resistant initially, providing them with support and an open invitation to talk about things at any time is a good start. It is when people try to push us away that they often need us the most." 

The study was published December 10 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Doctoral Foreign Study Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institutes of Health. The researchers declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 8, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013