Substance Use in LGBT Students

Partial view of lesbian couple holding hands on couch
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Students are a high-risk— group for substance use, both in terms of having greater exposure to substance use, living in a culture where substance use is widely accepted, and in terms of having greater risks of injury, side effects, or other negative consequences of substance use. But there is sub-group of students who research has shown to be at even greater risk than the population of students in general — those who identify as part of a sexual minority, specifically those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens and young adults have higher rates of
alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use and related problems when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, these risks are not as straightforward as being part of a sexual minority automatically meaning that LGBT students use more drugs than other students. In fact, this idea is one of the myths of gay drug use. The reality is more complex and depends on a great many individual factors.

Gay and Bisexual Men

In terms of overall prevalence, use of a range of substances is especially common among LGBT college students, who experience more negative consequences related to alcohol use than heterosexuals. And despite the fact that research indicates gay male college students have lower rates of binge drinking than their heterosexual counterparts, they have higher rates of ecstasy and marijuana use, and bisexual men are more likely than straight men to have sex without giving or getting consent due to alcohol use. Bisexual and ​gay men's substance use rates are similar, except that bisexual men smoke more than gay men, both in terms of cigarettes and marijuana (although they are less likely to smoke pipes or use smokeless tobacco).​​​

Gay men are also more likely to overuse prescription painkillers, as well as antidepressants and sedatives that have not been prescribed to them.

Lesbians and Bisexual Women

Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to use substances than straight women. Bisexual women are particularly vulnerable, They are significantly more likely than lesbians or straight women to smoke tobacco, engage in binge drinking and to use marijuana use, and they are five times as likely than lesbians and four times as likely as heterosexual women to take ecstasy. They are also at increased risk of suicide and having sex without giving or getting consent due to alcohol use. The difference between lesbian and bisexual women's substance use is much more pronounced than that of gay and straight men.

Transgender Students

Transgender individuals are underrepresented in research related to sexual minorities and substance use, and there do not appear to be any studies at present reporting specifically on substance use in transgender students. However, research has shown that substance use is one factor —among many others—that puts trans people at greater risk of depression.

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