Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Acceptance and Illegal Drug Use among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents: Results from a National Survey

Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Acceptance and Illegal Drug Use among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents: Results from a National Survey

Article excerpt

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) adolescents face many of the same developmental challenges as do heterosexual adolescents, but they must also deal with a stigmatized identity. In one of the more important studies on minority stress in gay men, Meyer (1995) demonstrated the destructive mental health effects of chronic stress related to stigmatization. He showed that internalized homophobia, expectations of rejection, and experiences with discrimination and violence are significantly associated with feelings of demoralization and irrational guilt as well as suicidal ideation. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (Killen-Harvey, 2006), in the case of gay youths the effects are considered traumatic, affecting gay youths' ability to cope and leading to feelings of fear and helplessness in their daily lives. Sexual minority youths experience and are exposed to trauma in multiple ways. They are

   not only vulnerable to the traumatic events of
   all youth but also have to contend with family
   rejection, school harassment, and physical, sexual,
   and/or emotional abuse in response to suspicion
   or declaration of their emerging sexual orientation
   and gender identity. (p. 1)

Exposure to stress is considered a major factor behind substance use and the main cause of relapse (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2006). Among adolescents, sexual minorities are particularly at risk for drug use due to multiple life stressors. The sometimes severe distress experienced by sexual minority youths came to the attention of researchers, educators, and practitioners following a 1989 report suggesting that gay and lesbian youths were two to three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (Gibson, 1989). Indeed, a closer examination of the lives of sexual minority youths shows that they face greater stress and have less access to social supports than do their heterosexual peers (Hart & Heimberg, 2001), are subjected to harassment in their schools and other forms of victimization on the basis of their sexual orientation (Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 2000; Kosciw & Diaz, 2006), and have higher rates than do heterosexual youths of high school dropout, physical illness, and family discord (Lock & Steiner, 1999). As the literature discussed later shows, the response of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents to the exacerbated stress associated with being members of a sexual minority often involves substance use. In the face of such pressures, are there factors that enhance their resiliency? Based on a large national sample, this study investigates whether family support associated with coming out and access to social networks in the queer (inclusive term for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning, or GLBTQ) community help decrease drug use in sexual minority youths by buffering the negative effects of life stress.

SUBSTANCE USE IN SEXUAL MINORITY YOUTHS: PREVALENCE AND UNDERLYING MECHANISMS

Research has revealed that along with other health risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex and suicide, the burden of life stress places GLB youths at increased risk for substance use (Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 2000; Ryan & Hunter, 2001). GLB youths may use substances to help them deal with the stigma and shame of a GLB identity, to deny feelings of same-gender attraction, or to cope with antigay verbal and physical violence (Ryan & Hunter, 2001; Savin-Williams, 1994). A comprehensive review of eight population-based studies on antigay harassment and the safety and well-being of sexual minority students revealed a consistent relationship between school harassment and drug use, along with other self-destructive behaviors, such as eating disorders and suicidal ideation and attempts (Reis & Saewyc, 1999). Family support and acceptance of same-gender orientation have been found to be associated with overall mental health and self-esteem in studies of gay men (Diaz, Ayala, Bein, Henne, & Marin, 2001; Elizur & Ziv, 2001). …

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