Tattooing and body piercing among adolescent detainees: Relationship to alcohol and other drug use

Ronald Braithwaite, Alyssa Robillard, Tammy Woodring, Torrence Stephens, Kimberly Jacob Arriola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this preliminary study was to document self-reported tattooing and body piercing behavior among a sample of 860 adolescent detainees. Additionally, the study examined the relationship of alcohol and drug use to tattooing and body piercing - an often overlooked HIV risk behavior. Method: Adolescents (N=860) participating in a substance use and HIV risk reduction intervention were upon entrance to Youth Development Campus (YDC). Results: Twenty-nine percent of the sample (N=245) had at least one tattoo, and more than half (69%) had at least one body piercing. Fifteen percent had two or more tattoos, while 28% had three or more piercings. Although a small percentage of the youth reported knowingly sharing needles for tattoos or piercings (2% and 1.5%, respectively), 21% had tattoos that had been administered unprofessionally and 20% had unprofessionally administered piercings. Marijuana and alcohol were the highest reported substances used in this sample, 62% and 54%, respectively. Alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, and sedatives were significant correlates of having tattoos. Alcohol was found to be a marginally significant (P=.052) correlate of body piercing. Conclusion: The popularity of tattooing and piercing and the risk involved with these activities make them an HIV risk behavior worthy of address. Risk reduction messages to youth should consistently address these behaviors and focus on them as they relate to substance use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-16
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of substance abuse
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent detainees
  • Adolescents
  • Body piercing
  • HIV risk behavior
  • Substance use
  • Tattooing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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