A comparison of drinking behavior between heterosexual and gay, lesbian and bisexual college students: An examination of prevalence and contributing factors

Jan Spinardi-Pirozzi, Pace University


Psychological research has indicated that the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth population is at higher risk for a number of mental health problems, including depression, suicide, and substance abuse (American Psychological Association [APA], "Guidelines," n.d.; Gonsiorek, 1988; Hart & Heimberg, 2001; Hicks, 2000; Lock & Steiner, 1999; Morrison & L'Heureux, 2001; Savin-Williams, 1994). As homosexuality has been largely marginalized and condemned within society, youth who are developing an LGB identity may face challenges in addition to the regular developmental tasks of adolescence (Browning, 1987; Gonsiorek, 1988). While many studies have uncovered a higher incidence of substance abuse in the LGB community, compared to their heterosexual counterparts (Bontempo & D'Augelli, 2002; Boyd, McCabe & d'Arcy, 2003; Olson, 2000), few researchers have explored alcohol use within the LGB college population, who might be at particular risk as they cope with their emerging sexual identity (Erikson, 1963, 1974) within the larger culture of the university where drinking is often prevalent. The purpose of the current study was to explore the differences between the incidence of alcohol use and drinking problems between heterosexual and LGB college students. This study also explored a variety of factors that were hypothesized to affect drinking behavior, such as internalized homophobia (self-loathing about one's homosexual behaviors or identity), positive alcohol expectancies, the perceived experience of stress, and shame-proneness (a tendency to make negative attributions to oneself). The sample consisted of 294 undergraduate students (75% reported being exclusively heterosexual, or attracted mostly to the opposite sex; 25% reported being exclusively homosexual, or having mostly same-sex attraction). Results indicated that LGB college students drank significantly more frequently in the month prior to this study and experienced significantly more alcohol-related consequences than their heterosexual peers. The researcher hypothesized that the experience of perceived stress would predict drinking behavior, and that positive expectancies of drinking would moderate the stress-drinking relationship. Additionally, it was hypothesized that shame-proneness would be a significant predictor of drinking frequency and alcohol consequences, and that internalized homophobia would predict drinking behavior among LGB students. However, contrary to the hypotheses, results indicated that none of the examined variables, including stress, shame-proneness or positive drinking expectances, were significant predictors of drinking frequency in the complete sample, and that internalized homophobia was not a predictor of drinking among LGB participants. The results of the current study confirm previous findings that LGB individuals may be at greater risk for substance use and problems than heterosexual individuals, and additionally, indicates that this trend occurs not only in adult populations, but in a young-adult, college population, as well. This suggests that information about sexuality and drinking behavior might be particularly relevant for mental health providers to identify youth at risk, and/or to target individuals for preventative services. Additionally, the results of the current study suggest that much more research is needed to identify additional variables that effect and explain the LGB youth risk for substance use.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|School counseling|Public health|Clinical psychology|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Spinardi-Pirozzi, Jan, "A comparison of drinking behavior between heterosexual and gay, lesbian and bisexual college students: An examination of prevalence and contributing factors" (2009). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3335161.



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