Study Finds LGB Youth at High Risk of Multiple Substance Use

What is the cause behind these numbers?

Researchers at Oregon State University have found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents are more likely to use multiple substances than teens who identify as straight.

In a recent study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, OSU researchers analyzed the incidence and frequency of drug use among LGB teens from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which monitored more than 15,000 young people in the United States. The data showed that teens who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual reported using substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana more often than straight teens.

LGB-identified teens were also more often found to be using three or more substances, a behavior that researchers call polysubstance use. Bisexual youth are most at risk for polysubstance use, according to the study.

“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 Sarah Dermody, an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts. “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.”

The objective of this new research was to better understand the risks involved in polysubstance use among sexual minority youth. Dermody observes that this is an area of research that not yet been properly investigated.

“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?”

Other recent research has found that sexual minority teens reported three times more substance use than their straight peers.

In a press release issued by the university, Dermody said that the disparity in drug use between LGB and straight teens may be stress-related due to discrimination, bullying, violence, and other victimization based on sexual minority status.

Such data often doesn’t take into account the reasons behind the numbers. LGB youth are at higher risk for bullying, harassment, and rejection than their straight peers. Whatever the cause(s), multiple substance use among young people in our community is a serious health concern.