Skip to main content

14-06-2012 | Psychology | Article

Alcohol use shows complex relationship with sexual orientation


Free abstract

MedWire News: Women and men whose sexual orientation is in flux during their college years are most likely to use alcohol as a means to cope than individuals who are heterosexual or homosexual, research shows.

"The sexual identity development process is inherently stressful for some persons and is often accompanied by increased feelings of alienation and isolation," say Amelia Talley (University of Missouri, Columbia, USA) and colleagues in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Sexual minority individuals (ie, those who endorse a nonheterosexual self-identification or same-sex sexual attractions or behaviors) tend to show higher levels of substance and alcohol use. Several hypotheses have been suggested to explain this including coping with sexual prejudice, permissive subcultural norms, risk-related alcohol expectancies, and fewer incompatible role responsibilities.

Talley et al examined how trajectories of alcohol involvement varied by sexual orientation class membership. Data were drawn from a subsample of a longitudinal study of 2068 incoming first-time college students at a large, public university.

Based on participants' annual reports they identified three unique subclasses of minority sexual orientation developmental patterns for males and females, in addition to the majority heterosexual group.

For female sexual minority participants, classes were identified as lesbian/bisexual; mostly straight; and increasingly mostly straight women.

For male sexual minority participants, classes were: gay/bisexual; mostly straight; and increasing minority men.

Contrasting previous findings, bisexual/lesbian women in the current report did not endorse elevated levels of alcohol use, and overall consumption was similar across all groups.

However, women who entered college acknowledging a mostly straight sexual orientation - as well as those who initiated their sexual questioning subsequent to the first year in college (ie, increasingly mostly straight) - consistently reported heightened negative consequences from alcohol use over the 4 years of college.

Elevations in alcohol-related consequences were also reliably apparent in the subgroup of men who were increasing in their endorsements of same-sex attractions/behaviors and minority self-identifications across the college years, and these consequences seemed to accelerate toward the end of college.

Women and men whose sexual orientation was in flux during the college years (ie, increasingly minority men and increasingly mostly straight women) were those most likely to endorse using alcohol as a means to cope with negative affect or to fit in with a desired social group.

"Rather than focusing on self-described bisexual, gay, and lesbian individuals, public health efforts that target sexual minority subgroups must seek to include those who identify as mostly straight as well as those who admit to same-sex behaviors and attractions but who do not ascribe to a sexual minority identity category," Talley et al comment.

By Andrew Czyzewski

Related topics