Stigma occurs at both individual and structural levels, but existing research tends to examine the effect of individual and structural forms of stigma in isolation, rather than considering potential synergistic effects. To address this gap, our study examined whether stigma at the individual level, namely gay-related rejection sensitivity, interacts with structural stigma to predict substance use among young sexual minority men. Sexual minority (n = 119) participants completed online measures of our constructs (e.g., rejection sensitivity). Participants currently resided across a broad array of geographic areas (i.e., 24 U.S. states), and had attended high school in 28 states, allowing us to capture sufficient variance in current and past forms of structural stigma, defined as (1) a lack of state-level policies providing equal opportunities for heterosexual and sexual minority individuals and (2) negative state-aggregated attitudes toward sexual minorities. To measure daily substance use, we utilized a daily diary approach, whereby all participants were asked to indicate whether they used tobacco or alcohol on nine consecutive days. Results indicated that structural stigma interacted with rejection sensitivity to predict tobacco and alcohol use, and that this relationship depended on the developmental timing of exposure to structural stigma. In contrast, rejection sensitivity did not mediate the relationship between structural stigma and substance use. These results suggest that psychological predispositions, such as rejection sensitivity, interact with features of the social environment, such as structural stigma, to predict important health behaviors among young sexual minority men. These results add to a growing body of research documenting the multiple levels through which stigma interacts to produce negative health outcomes among sexual minority individuals.
Keywords: Alcohol use; Gay men; Rejection sensitivity; Stigma; Tobacco use; US.
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