High Rates of Youth Drug Use Observed in Bisexuals and “Mostly Heterosexuals”

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Sexual minority adolescents are at disproportionate risk for using drugs. A recent analysis of a large community-based cohort of U.S. adolescents aged 12-23 revealed that bisexual youth and youth identifying as “mostly heterosexual” were at particularly high risk for using illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year.

(Mostly heterosexual females RR: 3.40, CI: 2.91 to 3.97; Bisexual females RR: 5.13, CI: 4.05 to 6.50; Lesbian RR: 3.07, CI: 1.70 to 5.55; Mostly heterosexual males RR: 2.32, CI: 1.78 to 3.03; Bisexual males RR: 2.87, CI: 1.64 to 5.03; Gay male RR: 1.89, CI: 1.17 to 3.06; referent group: heterosexuals). Data came from the longitudinal Growing Up Today Study which has followed children of the Nurses’ Health Study II. The three survey waves included data on sexual orientation and drug use and were conducted in 1999, 2001, and 2003. (Source: Corliss, HL, et al., 2010, “Sexual Orientation and Drug Use in a Longitudinal Cohort Study of U.S. Adolescents,” Addictive Behaviors, Volume 35, pp. 517-521).

For Further Thought

  • What might substance abuse treatment service providers learn from the results of this study? Do you think substance abuse providers should ask youth about their sexual orientation?
  • This study confirms the results of previous research showing disparities in drug use for sexual minorities. The study further showed that sexual minority females had a higher prevalence of drug use than did sexual minority males – a gender pattern that is the reverse of the findings for heterosexuals. What might account for this reversal? What might this suggest for the development of interventions to reduce drug use in sexual minority youth?