Past research has shown that lesbian and gay people experience higher rates of physical and mental health problems, perhaps because of 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 physical and mental health.
For the new study, researchers wanted to determine if the minority stress theory could explain why gay and lesbian adolescents engage in binge drinking more than heterosexual teens.
To do this, they analyzed responses from 1,232 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 years who took part in an online survey conducted by OutProud: The National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth. Of those taking the online survey, 16 percent identified themselves as lesbian females and 84 percent as gay males.
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, according to the researchers.
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, the survey found. Those living with their parents were less likely to report binge drinking, the researchers noted.
Feeling connected to the gay community was both positively and negatively associated with binge drinking, according to the researchers. Those who felt connected were more likely to report binge drinking.
However, being connected to a community protected against internalized homophobia, which indirectly protected the teens against binge drinking, the researchers explained.
“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,” said lead author Dr. Sheree M. Schrager, Ph.D, M.S., director of research in the Division of Hospital Medicine at the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
The study was presented at the 2014 Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics