Cover: Disparities in Substance Use Behaviors and Disorders Among Adult Sexual Minorities by Age, Gender, and Sexual Identity

Disparities in Substance Use Behaviors and Disorders Among Adult Sexual Minorities by Age, Gender, and Sexual Identity

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence Volume 189 (August 2018), Pages 139–146. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.05.008

Posted on Dec 27, 2018

by Megan S. Schuler, Cara E. Rice, Rebecca J. Evans-Polce, Rebecca L. Collins


Sexual minorities (SMs) experience elevated rates of substance use behaviors and disorders relative to heterosexuals; minority stress is theorized to contribute to these disparities. As SMs are not a homogenous group, analyses that aggregate SMs across sexual identity, age, or gender obscure important variation among this population. To date, age- and gender-specific disparities have not been rigorously examined using a large national sample.


Using data on 67,354 adults (ages 18–49) from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health we examined age- and gender-specific disparities in smoking, heavy episodic drinking, marijuana use, illicit drug use, and alcohol/substance use disorder. Age groups were ages 18–25, 26–34, and 35–49. Using logistic regression, we estimated age- and gender-specific odds ratios for gay/lesbian and bisexual individuals, relative to heterosexuals; analyses adjusted for demographic characteristics.


Bisexual women had significantly elevated odds of all outcomes at all ages, relative to heterosexual women. Gay/lesbian individuals had significantly elevated odds for nearly all outcomes compared to same-gender heterosexuals at ages 18–25, but not consistently at older ages. For bisexual men, significant disparities compared to heterosexual men were only observed at ages 35–49 for marijuana use and alcohol/substance use disorder.


We found notable within-group differences regarding SM disparities. While disparities were most pronounced in young adulthood for gay/lesbian individuals and mid-adulthood for bisexual men, bisexual women uniquely experienced disparities across all ages. Minority stress experiences may vary with respect to gender, age/cohort, and sexual identity, resulting in differential risk for substance use.

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