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LGBQ adolescents at substantially greater risk for substance use, according to study

Almost 72% of LGBQ teens had tried alcohol in their lifetimes, as had 63% of heterosexual youth. With cigarettes, 47% of LGBQ youth said they had smoked at least once, as did 31% of heterosexual teens.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning teens are at least twice as likely than their heterosexual peers to use illegal drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamines. This is according to a US study, “Substance Use Among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Adolescents in the United States, 2015” by Theodore L. Caputi, Laramie R. Smith, Steffanie A. Strathdee and John W. Ayers; and published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) this August.

This ought not to come as a surprise, with earlier researches suggesting that various stressors related to being closeted or coming out, and being rejected by family or friends could contribute to an increased risk of substance use among sexual minority teens.

For this study, the researchers looked at data from 14,703 high school students who were surveyed about their lifetime and prior-month use of 15 different substances, including illegal drugs, as well as tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs that weren’t given to them by a physician.

Sadly, LGBQ teens were 12% more likely than other teens to report any substance use in their lifetimes and 27% more likely to report substance use in the previous month.

Other findings included:

  • LGBQ youth were more than three times more likely to try heroin or methamphetamines at least once, and more than twice as likely to try ecstasy or cocaine.
  • The vast majority of teens didn’t use illegal drugs, regardless of sexual orientation.
    For example, “only” 6.6% of LBGQ teens had used heroin in their lifetimes, compared with 1.3% of heterosexual youth. Also, 8.6% of LGBQ adolescents had used methamphetamines compared with 2.1% of other teens.
  • Marijuana was more commonly used at some point by half of LGBQ youth and almost 38% of other teens.
  • Teen drinking and smoking were more common. Almost 72% of LGBQ teens had tried alcohol in their lifetimes, as had 63% of heterosexual youth. With cigarettes, 47% of LGBQ youth said they had smoked at least once, as did 31% of heterosexual teens.

Interviewed by Reuters Health, one of the study’s authors, John Ayers, was quoted as saying that stressors faced by LGBQ teens, such as stigma and isolation, “may make drugs foolishly appear attractive as a coping mechanism.”

Ayers quipped that “even experimentation with these harder drugs can derail a teen’s future.”

It is worth noting that the study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or sexual orientation might directly influence substance use or impact how much teens smoked, drank or did drugs.

All the same, the researchers of this study stressed that “policymakers should invest in prevention and early intervention resources to address substance use risks among LGBQ adolescents.”

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