An Oregon State University study has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more likely to use substances including nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis. Results of the research were published recently by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Sarah Dermody, an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts and the author of the report, said in a release that queer youth are at an increased use of harm from substance use.
“This data shows definitively that polysubstance use is an issue among many youth who identify as sexual minorities, meaning they are facing added health risks,” said Dermody. “But there are also differences among the subgroups of youth who identify as sexual minorities, suggesting we need to look beyond the averages to understand what factors may be influencing substance use in this population.”
“Sexual minority is an umbrella term for those who identify with any sexual identity other than heterosexual or who report same-sex attraction or behavior,” according to the release. “For the purposes of the study, the researchers focused on those youth who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
Transgender youth were not included in the study.
Three Times the Risk
Dermody said that it is important to research sexual minorities as a group distinct from the general population. Previous research has shown that sexual minority youth reported nearly three times more substance use than heterosexual youth.
“The experiences of youth who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are underreported in research, generally,” she said. “In research, we tend to focus on the averages. In this study, we’re trying to better understand the intersectionality of sexual orientation, race, and gender with substance use. Are some sexual minority youth at more risk than others for substance use?”
To conduct the study, Dermody analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which monitors key health and risk behaviors among young people, including substance abuse. The 2015 national survey of more than 15,000 youth was the first time the study included a question about sexual identity, giving researchers new insight into how a youth’s sexual identity might impact substance use.
The research also discovered that some subgroups within the sexual minority population were at a greater risk than others. Bisexual youth saw the largest increase in the risk of abuse of multiple substances as well as combinations of two substances, while those who identified as lesbian or gay were only at higher risk for some combinations.
Dermody noted that additional research is needed to determine the factors that lead to an increase in substance abuse among young people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
“Are the lesbian, gay and bisexual youth using substances also facing additional adversity? Or are there protective factors that play a role in keeping some of these youth from using substances?” Dermody said. “We want to better understand what may be driving the differences in the substance use.”
She also said that health care professionals can use the data to help their patients who may be most at risk.
“The findings suggest that it may be good practice for health care providers who serve these youth to do assessments for substance use as part of regular health screenings,” Dermody said.