A study by University College London has concluded that young lesbians and gays in England are twice as likely to drink and smoke.

Young people who identify their sexuality as lesbian or gay are twice as likely to have smoked than their heterosexual peers, according to new research published by BMJ Open. They were also more likely to have consumed alcohol and at more hazardous levels.

The research data was accumulated from data of over 7600 participants. This representative sample of school students entered the study at age 13 or 14 and they were followed for 5 years. The participants were asked about their smoking and alcohol use.

At the age of 18/19 they were asked about their sexual identity.

Young people who identified as LGB which accounted for around 3.5% of the sample were twice as likely to have smoked and used alcohol.

Gay or lesbian participants were more likely to say that they drank alcohol frequently (more than weekly), and report hazardous alcohol drinking patterns (frequent intoxication).

Dr Joanna Semlyen, one of the authors of the studied said,

‘There are several reasons why LGB young people may be more likely to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol hazardously and we do not, as yet, due to lack of research, have definitive evidence as to what the reasons are, however, we suspect that the impact of homophobia and heterosexism within society, in addition to the possible experience of homophobic bullying whilst at school, may lead to what we call ‘minority stress’ or in increased low self esteem which young people then perhaps seek to alleviate with smoking and/or alcohol.’

Bisexual participants were more likely to have smoked but had similar alcohol use patterns to their heterosexual peers.

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Lead researcher Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson, from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said,

“Our research shows that despite recent social change, young people today who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked as their heterosexual peers. Gay and lesbian young people also appear to have more frequent and more hazardous alcohol drinking patterns than heterosexuals. Smoking and drinking alcohol frequently and hazardously can lead to chronic disease in later life, and so we should be worried about these health inequalities in this minority group and the longer term consequences they may face.”

“From a public health perspective, we need to understand why young gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely to engage in risky health behaviours than their heterosexual peers,” continued Dr Hagger-Johnson. “This will need to involve longitudinal research, following a large sample of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people over time. We are concerned that ‘minority stress’, resulting from homophobia and heterosexism, might lead people to self-medicate symptoms of anxiety and depression with cigarettes and alcohol.”

When asked whether the government or the health service could do more to interface with young LGB, Dr Semlyen said,

‘As a researcher and LGBT Health Psychologist, I would like to see the routine collection of sexual orientation data within population based health and well-being studies and as part of the NHS’ own routine identity data collection. This would allow us to accurately determine the health inequalities being experienced by this group and, by virtue of being included, would go a long way to indicate to LGBT people that their health is being considered. LGB people want to be counted in surveys. Indeed we noted the question in this study had a very low refusal rate.’

 

If you have been effected by issues in this article and wish to talk to someone visit: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk