Minority youth are at increased risk for psychological and psychosocial challenges. Research suggests that the discrimination and prejudice often experienced by minority individuals lead to high levels of stress. This stress is often internalized and can cause depression, anxiety, panic, and fear. When externalized, this emotional stress can be exhibited in anger, frustration, or aggression. People under this type of stress are more likely to cope with their feelings in harmful ways, such as by misusing drugs and alcohol. Although there is abundant evidence to demonstrate this cause and effect among racial minority groups, religious minority groups, and people with physical and mental impairments, the direct relationship between psychosocial stress and substance use among youths with minority sexual orientations (SO) is less clear.
Karin L. Brewster of the Center for Demography and Population Health and the Department of Sociology at Florida State University sought to expand upon the existing research in this area. She recently led a study that assessed how sexual attraction, sexual identity, and sexual experience affected drug and alcohol misuse among a group of young adults. She evaluated how the participants defined their sexual identity in relation to their attraction and experience. Overall, Brewster found that the women were more likely to identify with broader sexual categories. Specifically, more men than women reported being exclusively heterosexual, while more women reported being attracted to people of the same sex. Additionally, women had a history of more same-sex partners than the male participants.
When Brewster examined substance use among the participants, she discovered that the men had higher rates of tobacco and marijuana use and binge drinking, regardless of their sexual identity. Brewster also found that substance use was predicted by sexual experience rather than sexual attraction or sexual identity. This finding suggests that programs that are designed to address substance use issues in LGBTQ young adults may fail to include all of the sexual minority individuals at risk. Brewster said, “Instead, intervention programs that are specifically inclusive of different sexualities and that emphasize mutual respect and self-competence may be more appropriate—and, ultimately, more effective.”
Brewster, K. L., Harker Tillman, K. (2012). Sexual orientation and substance use among adolescents and young adults. American Journal of Public Health, 102.6, 1168-1176.
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