Substance Use among Sexual Minorities: Has it Actually Gotten Better?

Ryan J. Watson, Carol Goodenow, Carolyn Porta, Jones Adjei, Elizabeth Saewyc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Background: Despite efforts to decrease substance use, rates among sexual minority youth (SMY) remain higher than among heterosexuals. Substance use is a leading contributor to morbidity and mortality in adulthood, and SMY's use of substances is related to poorer mental and emotional health. Objectives: We sought to document the trends in substance use for a large sample of youth over 14 years with special attention to SMY. In addition, we tested whether there were disparities in substance use behaviors between SMY and heterosexual youth. Last, we examined changes in disparities over time in substance use among SMY. Methods: We analyzed data from 8 waves of the Massachusetts YRBS (N = 26,002, Mage = 16), from 1999 to 2013, to investigate trends and disparities in current tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis use for heterosexual youth and SMY. We used logistic regression interaction models to test whether these disparities have widened or narrowed for SMY, as compared to heterosexuals, over the span of 14 years. Results: In absolute terms, substance use rates decreased for nearly all youth between 1999 and 2013. There were striking disparities in substance use between heterosexual youth and all sexual minority subgroups. These disparities in substance use narrowed among males but remained unchanged or worsened among females. Conclusions/Importance: Trends in substance use are changing over time, but not in the same ways for all sexual minority subgroups. Patterns are worsening for females. These findings suggest that we need to address the needs of LGB populations in novel ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1228
Number of pages8
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 7 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Alcohol use
  • LGB
  • marijuana use
  • tobacco
  • trends


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