Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBT Youth

Most of the available research about this population has focused on lesbian and gay adolescents; little information is available on bisexual identity development during adolescence (and related risks). Even less is known about the experiences and needs of transgender youth. Information about substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is limited, and there are virtually no studies targeting transgender youth. Early community-based studies of urban gay youth show high rates of alcohol and drug use (Remafedi, 1987; Rotherman-Borus, Hunter & Rosario, 1994), while others show rates that are comparable to adolescents in general (Boxer, 1990; Bradford & Ryan, 1987; Herdt & Boxer, 1993). In a recent study among a multiethnic group of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth (N=154; 66 percent gay/lesbian; 31 percent bisexual), 93 percent of females and 89 percent of males reported using licit or illicit substances, with alcohol the most popular licit drug and marijuana the most popular illicit drug (Rosario, Hunter & Gwadz, 1997).

The lack of information is mirrored by a lack of assessment, prevention, and treatment services. Recently, some providers and agencies have attempted to address these gaps (e.g., Ryan & Futterman, 1998; Simpson, 1994; Travers & Schneider, 1996). However, more research is needed on the level of substance abuse among these youth as well as treatment and relapse prevention strategies.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of selfesteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders. However, LGBT youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation. As a result, they may use alcohol and drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule or antigay violence.