Substance Use Disparities at the Intersection of Sexual Identity and Race/Ethnicity

Results from the 2015–2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Published in: LGBT Health, Volume 7, Issue 6, pages 283–291 (September 2020). doi: 10.1089/lgbt.2019.0352

Posted on on July 17, 2020

by Megan S. Schuler, Dana M. Prince, Joshua Breslau, Rebecca L. Collins

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This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) racial/ethnic minority individuals experience minority stress due to both their sexual identity and race/ethnicity and may be at elevated substance use risk (relative to heterosexuals) compared with their White LGB peers. We examined differences in the presence and magnitude of substance use disparities among LGB adults across race/ethnicity.


Using data on 168,560 adults (including 11,389 LGB adults) from the 2015–2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we examined disparities in cigarette smoking, heavy episodic drinking (HED), and marijuana use by race/ethnicity (White, Black, Hispanic, and other race/multiracial). Analyses compared lesbian/gay and bisexual adults, respectively, with heterosexual adults of the same gender and race/ethnicity. We also tested the magnitude of racial/ethnic minority disparities relative to the corresponding White disparity.


Significant disparities in smoking, HED, and marijuana use were observed for lesbian/gay and bisexual women across nearly all racial/ethnic groups. Disparities were consistently greater in magnitude for Black and Hispanic LGB women compared with White LGB women. Few disparities were observed among men; the magnitude of observed disparities did not differ by race/ethnicity.


Disparities were most pronounced among racial/ethnic minority LGB women, which may reflect their unique experiences of discrimination at the intersection of multiple minority idenities. However, racial/ethnic minority gay and bisexual men were not at elevated risk relative to their White counterparts. Future research on substance use disparities among LGB individuals using an intersectional framework is warranted to elucidate differential minority stress processes that contribute to the observed heterogeneity across race/ethnicity, sexual identity, and gender.

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