Teenagers of all sexual orientations in British Columbia are consuming less alcohol than the youth from about 20 years ago.
This is according to a new UBC study, published in the journal Addiction, which is also one of the first to explore and compare alcohol use trends among straight and sexual minority youth.
However, the numbers are decreasing at a slower rate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teenagers.
In the UBC article, Elizabeth Saewyc, study senior author and nursing professor at the university, discusses why that is and possible solutions to the problem.
Utilizing the B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, consisting of data from almost 100,000 students in grades seven to 12 across the province, at five-year intervals from 1996 to 2013, Saewyc and her team were not surprised teens were drinking less.
“The proportion of straight boys who have used alcohol at least once dropped from 66 per cent in 1998 to 45 per cent by 2013. For straight girls, proportions fell from 62 per cent to 44 per cent,” said Saewyc.
“Alcohol use among gay males also dropped, from 73 per cent to 57 per cent. Lesbian girls are also drinking less, although the decline is less marked.”
She added binge-drinking has also declined, with 29 per cent of straight boys engaging in heavy drinking in the 1998 survey – that fell to 18 per cent in 2013. In those same years, the numbers went from 37 per cent to 29 per cent for bisexual girls.
While these are all positive results, alcohol use hasn’t declined quickly enough for the LGB group to close the gap,” said Saewyc.
“In 2013, 57 per cent of gay males drank alcohol at least once, compared to 45 per cent of straight boys; 65 per cent of lesbian girls drank, vs. 44 per cent of their straight counterparts,” she said.
“Binge drinking showed the same disparity. A higher proportion of lesbian girls and gay males reported engaging in binge-drinking in 2013 compared to their straight peers.”
So, why does this remain a constant trend over the years?
Saewyc speculates the higher alcohol rates could in part be due to LGB youth dealing with stigma and stress; she and her team hoped there would be a large difference in numbers thanks to growing social acceptance for LGB people over the last decade.
“Stigma and discrimination are still significant challenges for LGB teens, and this is likely fostering alcohol use as a coping strategy. And that’s concerning, because binge drinking has known social and health consequences.”
Although, this may very well change soon.
“Some of our previous research has shown that family support for LGBTQ youth, as well as school connectedness, are linked to lower rates of alcohol use and problem substance use among LGBTQ youth,” added Saewyc. “And other research we’ve done shows that school-based policies and programs like gay-straight alliances lower the odds of binge drinking among both LGB and straight youth.”
She concluded when the next survey is conducted in 2018, the existing gap could be narrowed further because of these support programs.