Gay and bisexual teens ‘more likely’ to use drink and drugs

Wide-ranging study runs rule over responses from 15,000 15-year-olds in eight countries

Bisexual and gay teenagers are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than their heterosexual counterparts, an Irish-led study has found.

The research also found heterosexual, gay and bisexual teenagers who reported “being in love” used drink and drugs significantly more than teens who said they had never been in love.

The stress and discrimination associated with being a sexual minority as well as the stress that goes with romantic relationships is cited as a possible explanation for the disparity in substance abuse.

The study, led by András Költo of the University of Galway, and published in latest International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, examined responses from nearly 15,000 15-year-olds in eight European countries.


The survey asked participants if they have ever been in love with boys, girls or both boys and girls. It found teenagers, particularly girls, who reported feeling romantic love towards both genders are the most likely to drink, smoke cigarettes and use cannabis. They are also more likely to get drunk regularly. A quarter of bisexual respondents said they had been drunk in the previous 30 days.

Those aged 15 attracted only to the same gender were the next most likely to drink, smoke and use drugs. They were followed by teenagers attracted to the opposite gender.

‘Stress in adolescence’

Participants who said they had never been in love with anybody from either gender reported far lower rates of substance abuse. For example just 5.5 per cent reported using cannabis in the recent past, compared to 20.6 per cent of bisexual teens and 15.8 per cent of homosexual teens.

“In other words, it seems that never having been in love is protective against substance use,” noted the authors. “This finding is in line with available evidence that romantic relationships [irrespective of the gender of the partner] may be associated with stress in adolescence.”

Sexual orientation was a better predictor of drink and drugs use than socio-economic or geographic factors, they found. The pattern was common to countries with established acceptance and protections for gay people and countries with a poor record of gay rights.

The authors suggested the use of targeted interventions for gay and bisexual teens to minimise their increased risks of substance use. They studied youths from French Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland, England, France, Hungary, Iceland and North Macedonia. Specific data on Irish youths is due to be published later this year, said Mr Költo.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times