Sexual-orientation differences in alcohol use trajectories and disorders in emerging adulthood: results from a longitudinal cohort study in the United States

Addiction. 2018 Apr 21;10.1111/add.14251. doi: 10.1111/add.14251. Online ahead of print.


Aims: We estimated sexual-orientation differences in alcohol use trajectories during emerging adulthood, and tested whether alcohol use trajectories mediated sexual-orientation differences in alcohol use disorders (AUDs).

Design: Longitudinal self-reported survey data from the Growing Up Today Study.

Setting: United States.

Participants: A total of 12 493 participants aged 18-25 during the 2003, 2005, 2007 or 2010 surveys.

Measurements: Stratified by gender, longitudinal latent class analyses estimated alcohol use trajectories (using past-year frequency, quantity and binge drinking from 2003 to 2010). Multinomial logistic regression tested differences in trajectory class memberships by sexual orientation [comparing completely heterosexual (CH) participants with sexual-minority subgroups: mainly heterosexual (MH), bisexual (BI) and gay/lesbian (GL) participants]. Modified Poisson regression and mediation analyses tested whether trajectories explained sexual-orientation differences in AUDs (past-year DSM-IV abuse/dependence in 2010).

Findings: Six alcohol use trajectory classes emerged for women and five for men: these included heavy (23.5/36.9% of women/men), moderate (31.8/26.4% of women/men), escalation to moderately heavy (9.7/12.0% of women/men), light (17.0% for women only), legal (drinking onset at age 21; 11.1/15.7% of women/men) and non-drinkers (7.0/9.1% of women/men). Compared with CH women, MH and BI women had higher odds of being heavy, moderate, escalation to moderately heavy and light drinkers versus non-drinkers (odds ratios = 2.02-3.42; P-values < 0.01-0.04). Compared with CH men, MH men had higher odds of being heavy, moderate and legal drinkers versus non-drinkers (odds ratios = 2.24-3.34; P-values < 0.01-0.01). MH men and women, BI women and GLs had higher risk of AUDs in 2010 than their same-gender CH counterparts (risk ratios = 1.34-2.17; P-values < 0.01). Alcohol use trajectories mediated sexual-orientation differences in AUDs for MH and GL women (proportion of effect mediated = 30.8-31.1%; P-values < 0.01-0.02), but not for men.

Conclusions: In the United States, throughout emerging adulthood, several sexual-minority subgroups appear to have higher odds of belonging to heavier alcohol use trajectories than completely heterosexuals. These differences partially explained the higher risk of alcohol use disorders among mainly heterosexual and gay/lesbian women but not among sexual-minority men.

Keywords: Alcohol use disorder; alcohol use trajectories; cohort study; emerging adulthood; longitudinal latent class analysis; sexual orientation.