Trends in Alcohol Use Behaviors by Sexual Identity and Behavior Among High School Students, 2007-2017

J Adolesc Health. 2019 Dec;65(6):760-768. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.06.007. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


Purpose: Certain groups, particularly sexual minority youth, demonstrate notable disparities in alcohol use risk. Assessing trends in alcohol use behaviors by sexual orientation over time is therefore important to the epidemiologic study of adolescent health equity.

Methods: We analyzed age at first drink, lifetime drinking behavior, current drinking, and binge drinking in a large, national sample of high school youth across six time points, beginning in 2007 and biennially through 2017. We assessed trends by sex, sexual identity, and sexual behavior, controlling for race/ethnicity and age.

Results: Our results demonstrated that, although overall alcohol use is decreasing among youth, disparities between heterosexual and sexual minority youth remain significant. The largest decreases were seen in current alcohol use among lesbian youth, which fell from a prevalence of 56.1% in 2007 to 38.9% in 2017, and among bisexual females (64.3% in 2007 to 41.1% in 2017). Despite this, alcohol use behaviors were still elevated among lesbian and bisexual female youth compared with heterosexual sex-matched counterparts. Heterosexual-identified male students saw significant decreases in alcohol use, whereas most alcohol use behaviors among sexual minority males decreased but not to a statistically significant degree, with the exception of binge drinking among those who identified as gay (2007: 36.0% to 2017: 12.6%) and bisexual (2007: 24.7% to 2017: 11.6%). Results by sexual behavior are presented within.

Conclusions: Sexual minority youth continued to demonstrate markedly high prevalence of alcohol use behaviors compared with heterosexual peers across all time points. Downward trends in alcohol use may thus mask serious population health risks if not adequately explored. Research and health promotion efforts must consider sexual minority orientation to avoid incomplete or inaccurate representation of findings.

Keywords: Alcohol; LGBT; Sexual minority; YRBS; Youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Binge Drinking / ethnology
  • Binge Drinking / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Equity
  • Heterosexuality / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Underage Drinking / ethnology
  • Underage Drinking / statistics & numerical data
  • Underage Drinking / trends*
  • United States / epidemiology