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Risk for drug abuse higher in older lesbian, gay and bisexual adults – study

LGBTQIA people may be more likely to use a range of substances, and this may be partially attributed to stressors like discrimination, oppression and stigma.

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Middle-aged and older adults who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) are more than twice as likely to abuse prescription tranquilizers and opioid pain medications compared to their heterosexual counterparts. LGB older adults were also nearly three times as likely to use cannabis for non-medical purposes.

This is according to a study – “Substance Use Among Middle-Aged and Older Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults in the United States, 2015 to 2017” done by Benjamin H. Han, MD; Mari Miyoshi, BA; and Joseph J. Palamar, PhD – published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Now this is worth highlighting: The study noted that the use of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine was roughly the same – and low – among both populations of older adults, and that drug use among older adults in general – regardless of sexual orientation – is hardly “rampant”.

According to co-author Han, as quoted by UPI: “A multitude of stressors can be a risk factor for unhealthy substance use.”

The findings are actually consistent with other research showing that LGBTQIA people may be more likely to use a range of substances, and this may be partially attributed to stressors like discrimination, oppression and stigma.

In 2018, for instance, a study found that 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.

In 2019, another study found that the odds of substance use among females who identify as sexual minorities – an umbrella term for those who identify with any sexual identity other than heterosexual or who report same-sex attraction or behavior – is 400% higher than their heterosexual female peers.

Yet another 2019 study found that LGB adolescents were more likely than heterosexual adolescents to be polysubstance users versus non-users across multiple classes of use: experimental users, marijuana-alcohol users, tobacco-alcohol users, medium-frequency three-substance users, and high-frequency three-substance users.

For this current study, the researchers reviewed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, using survey responses from 25,880 adults 50 and older from 2015 to 2017. In total, 2.5% identified as LGB.

The researchers looked at past-year use of cannabis, alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as non-medical use of prescription opioids; sedatives, including sleep medications; stimulants; and tranquilizers or anti-anxiety medications. Data for LGBT individuals were then compared with those of heterosexual people.

They found that roughly 14% of older adults identifying as LGB used marijuana for non-medical purposes, compared to 5.5% of heterosexual adults.Similarly, 3.6% of “older sexual minority adults” misused prescription tranquilizers and 4.7% reported abusing prescription opioids.

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In contrast, only 1.1% and 2.3% of heterosexual adults acknowledged using these drugs for non-medical purposes.

Substance use may compound or complicate health issues in older adults, the researchers said, since older people experience physical changes, are at higher risk for chronic disease and may take prescription drugs that can interact with these substances.

The researchers stressed that this study does not eye to further stigmatize LGB older adults by highlighting substance use issues. Instead, this merely eyes to draw attention to the needs of communities that continue to be underserved with regard to substance abuse treatment and mental health services in general.


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