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Why Gay and Lesbian Teens Often Binge Drink

By American Academy of Pediatrics - 2014-10-19 - Updated: 2014-11-19

Summary

For gay teenagers often stressful experiences, such as victimization and homophobia, are associated with heavy episodic drinking.

"Although other studies of adolescents commonly report on sexuality or sexual identity, these general population studies do not typically assess nuanced experiences of stress among sexual minority adolescents."

Main Document

Higher rates of binge drinking by lesbian and gay adolescents compared to their heterosexual peers may be due to chronic stress caused by difficult social situations, according to a study to be presented Saturday, May 3, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Research has shown that lesbian and gay people experience higher rates of physical and mental health problems. One explanation for these disparities is minority stress. According to this theory, chronic stress due to discrimination, rejection, harassment, concealment of sexual orientation, internalized homophobia (negative attitudes toward homosexuality) and other negative experiences leads to poor health.

The authors of this study sought to determine if minority stress theory could explain why gay and lesbian adolescents engage in binge drinking more than heterosexual youths.

To do this, they analyzed responses from 1,232 youths ages 12-18 years who took part in an online survey conducted by OutProud: The National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. Sixteen percent of youths identified themselves as lesbian females and 84 percent as gay males.

The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting - the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide.

The survey asked questions about sexual minority experiences and included more than 260 variables. It represents the only known research to explore the relationship between binge drinking and a variety of minority stress experiences, such as homophobia and gay-related victimization, in a large national sample of lesbian and gay adolescents.

"Although other studies of adolescents commonly report on sexuality or sexual identity, these general population studies do not typically assess nuanced experiences of stress among sexual minority adolescents," said lead author Sheree M. Schrager, PhD, MS, director of research in the Division of Hospital Medicine at the Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Consistent with minority stress theory, participants reported greater psychological distress when they experienced violence or victimization, if they had internalized homophobia, and if they had made their sexual orientation known.

Internalized homophobia was a significant predictor of binge drinking, while experiencing violence or victimization was marginally associated with drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Those living with their parents were less likely to report binge drinking.

Feeling connected to the gay community was both positively and negatively associated with binge drinking. Those who felt connected were more likely to report binge drinking. However, community connectedness protected against internalized homophobia, thereby indirectly protecting against heavy episodic drinking.

"Given that interventions are more effective when they are developed to match the cultural experiences of participants, theoretically grounded studies like this one can potentially lead to tailored treatment approaches based on the unique experiences of lesbian and gay adolescents," Dr. Schrager said.

This study was supported by the James H. Zumberge Individual Research Grant to Jeremy Goldbach, PhD, through the University of Southern California Office of Research.

To view the study abstract, go to http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php

When it comes to teen alcohol use, close friends have more influence than peers

A recent study by an Indiana University researcher has found that adolescents' alcohol use is influenced by their close friends' use, regardless of how much alcohol they think their general peers consume.

Jonathon Beckmeyer, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and author of the study, said his research generally focuses on the onset of teen alcohol use and how their social relationships shape those experiences.

"We've known for a long time that friends and peers have an influence on individual alcohol use, but there are no common studies that distinguished between the broader peer group and the friend group's influence on those decisions," Beckmeyer said.

Data used for the study were taken from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Each participant was 15 years old and was asked a series of questions related to how many teens their age and how many of their friends they thought consumed alcohol, and whether they had consumed alcohol themselves in the past year.

The study demonstrated that the participants' perceptions of how many teens in their direct friend group had consumed alcohol held more weight than the perceptions of how many of their peers overall were consuming. In other words, even if a teen perceived that many teens in general consumed alcohol, they were less likely to have experimented with it themselves if they did not think their friends drank alcohol.

"We're spending our time changing perceptions of the broader peer group, but really what might be the more key determinant of teen alcohol use is what's going on in their own friend group," Beckmeyer said. "Really working to encourage teens to make friendships with non-alcohol-using friends could be one of the more effective things parents can do to help."

Beckmeyer presented his study, "Comparing perceptions of how many peers and friends use alcohol: Associations with middle adolescents' own alcohol use" on Nov. 19 at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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