Substance Use Among Sexual Minority Collegiate Athletes: A National Study

Subst Use Misuse. 2016;51(4):517-32. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2015.1126741. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


Background: The empirical research examining substance use among sexual minority collegiate athletes is sparse. Problematically, this group may be at a greater risk of substance use due to their marginalized status within the context of sport.

Objectives: We examined different types of substance use during the past 30 days, and diagnosis of substance use disorders during the past 12 months, among sexual minority collegiate athletes.

Methods: This study uses data from college students for the fall semester between 2008 and 2012 from the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment.

Results: Sexual minority collegiate athletes had greater odds of past 30-day cigarette use, past 30-day alcohol use, past 30-day marijuana use, and indicating being diagnosed or treated for a substance use disorder during the past 12 months when compared to either heterosexual collegiate athletes or heterosexual nonathletes, but had similar odds on these outcomes when compared to sexual minority nonathletes. Sexual minority collegiate athletes also had greater odds of binge drinking during the past 2 weeks when compared to either heterosexual nonathletes or sexual minority nonathletes, but had similar odds on this outcome when compared to heterosexual collegiate athletes. Additional analyses by gender reveal that male sexual minority athletes are at the greatest risk of being diagnosed or treated for a substance use disorder.

Conclusions: Possible explanations as to why sexual minority collegiate athletes (particularly males) may be at a greater risk of substance use disorders could include the difficulty of trying to maintain an athletic identity within a social environment that is traditionally homophobic.

Keywords: College athletes; gender; sexual orientation; sport; substance use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology
  • Heterosexuality / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / psychology*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult