A new study led by San Diego State University has suggested that LGBTQ+ teens are at a higher risk of substance use than their heterosexual peers.
As part of the most recent National Youth Risk Behavior Survey – the largest national survey on adolescent health – 15,624 high school students were asked about their use of 15 substances. The survey also included questions about sexual identity, including whether teens identify as LGBTQ+.
The study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that LGBTQ+ teens were more likely to have used 14 of the 15 substances mentioned to respondents during the research phase. These substances included alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, steroids, and marijuana.
LGBTQ+ teens were also more than five times more likely to use heroin than heterosexual teens (6.6 per cent versus 1.3). Other hard drugs to be at greater risk to LGBTQ+ teens included hallucinogens (12.3 versus 5.5 percent), ecstasy (10.8 versus 4.1 percent), cocaine (11.0 versus 4.2 percent), methamphetamines (8.6 versus 2.1 percent) and prescription drugs (26.2 versus 15.5 percent).
“There have been some indications that LGBQ teens face increased substance use risks, but our study shows for the first time that the problem goes far beyond alcohol and tobacco, including the hardest most dangerous drugs,” said SDSU School of Public Health associate research professor and study coauthor John W. Ayers.
The study also found that LGBTQ+ adolescents were 1.1 times as likely as heterosexual adolescents to report any lifetime and 1.27 times as likely to report past 30-day substance use.
“Our findings highlight the need for accepting LGBQ teens, as stigma may be playing a role in elevating their substance use risk or prevent those from needing help to speak up,” said coauthor Laramie Smith, a LGBQ health researcher at the University of California, San Diego.
The results represent a call to action for academic, community and government leaders to address the elevated drug use within the LGBTQ+ community. Theodore L. Caputi, a George J. Mitchell Scholar at University College Cork and the study’s first author said “national health, political, and social leaders must speak up and begin work on a rapid, national strategy to combat teen substance use.”
The team also encouraged parents, teachers, caretakers, and advocates to be vigilant, added coauthor Steffanie Strathdee of UC San Diego. “If teens show signs of substance use risk, they should seek supportive help from professionals.”
The study identifies a serious problem, noted Ayers, but “fortunately decades of science and experience can be leveraged to address LGBQ teen’s substance use risk. Now is the time to act.”