New Research: LGB People 2x More Likely to Smoke & Drink

Publish Date: 30/08/2013

Lesbian and gay young people in England twice as likely to smoke and drink alcohol

Young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked than their heterosexual peers, according to new research. Lesbian and gay young people were also more likely to drink alcohol frequently and more hazardously.

The interdisciplinary research team comprised researchers from five UK Universities (UCL, University of Cambridge, London Metropolitan University, De Montfort University Leicester and Brunel University), a doctor working in General Practice and a consultant from Public Health England.

The researchers looked at data from over 7,600 participants who entered the study at age 13/14 and were followed for five years. All the participants were asked about their cigarette smoking and alcohol use. At age 18/19, they were asked about their sexual identity.

This is the first UK study in which representative data has been available. Most previous research in this area has come from the US.

Young people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual (3.5% of the sample) were around twice as likely as heterosexuals to have smoked during the follow-up.

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).

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

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

Dr Caroline Yorston, Policy & Research Officer for The Lesbian & Gay Foundation comments #

"The LGF welcomes the release of this new research as it will hopefully increase awareness of the potentially damaging impact of substance use on LGB people, which as this study shows can start at a young age.

"In our own research, Part of the Picture, we’ve also found that LGB people aged 16-24 are more likely to use substances than their heterosexual peers. Furthermore, our data also indicates that among the LGB community itself, young people more commonly take drugs and drink to harmful levels.

"There is clearly some work to be done to understand the substance use habits of younger LGB people and we fully support any call to put this issue on the public health agenda as the potential for hidden harm is great."

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation are launching research from the 4th year of their Part of the Picture study. For more information contact caroline.yorston@lgf.org.uk click here.