Higher use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco in gay, lesbian and bisexual population

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are significantly higher users of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs than the heterosexual population, according to the latest analysis of national health data.

The disparity in rates of substance use have been found by Massey University researchers analysing data from the New Zealand Health Behaviours Surveys, commissioned in recent years by the Ministry of Health.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations were only slightly more likely to use alcohol. However, while 42,7% of the gay, lesbian and bisexual group reported that they smoked tobacco regularly over the last year, this compared to only 27.7% of heterosexuals. The gay, lesbian, and bisexual population was also more than twice as likely to have used Marijuana over the last year as heterosexual survey respondents; nearly four times as likely to have used amphetamines on a regular basis in the previous 12 months; more than four times as likely to have used LSD over the last year; and more than three times as likely to have regularly used Ecstasy over the previous year.

The researchers were also able to compare various sub-groups finding that disparities were particularly elevated for lesbian and bisexual women with regards to illicit drug use, and for gay and bisexual men with regards to alcohol and tobacco use. Måori gay, lesbian and bisexual people when compared with Maori heterosexuals and their non-Måori peers reported lower usage of alcohol but higher usage of tobacco and some illicit drugs.

Lead researcher, Frank Pega, is presenting the findings to the annual conference of the Public Health Association and says this is the first comprehensive national evidence from a general population survey that differences do exist between the groups.

He says: “The implication of this research is that public health policy on substance use needs to address these health disparities by including also gay, lesbian and bisexual communities as priority populations. The findings also highlight a need for health promotion initiatives and substance use interventions targeted specifically at gay, lesbian and bisexual populations to be established”.

“Other research has already established that gay, lesbian and bisexual peoples’ substance use is related to their experience of discrimination and to social stress arising from this.”

Mr Pega is a member of the Whariki Research Group working with the Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE). With researcher Dr Nicole Coupe he took data from the Health Behaviours Surveys on drug use conducted in 2003 and on alcohol use in 2004. The surveys were a major research undertaking that saw over 15,000 New Zealanders interviewed by telephone

Mr Pega and Dr Coupe found that a higher proportion of the gay, lesbian and bisexual group drank alcohol and smoked tobacco. The findings also show that the group that identified as gay, lesbian and bisexual were significantly more likely than the heterosexual group to have experimented with and be a regular user of cannabis, LSD, Ecstasy and Amphetamines.

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