A strong link between victimisation experiences and substance abuse has been discovered by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, US.
The correlation is especially prevalent among gays, lesbians and bisexuals - more so than in heterosexuals, says Tonda Hughes, professor and interim head of health systems science in the UIC College of Nursing. Hughes is lead author of the study, published in the journal Addiction.
Researchers compared victimisation experiences of unwanted sexual activity, neglect, physical violence and assault with a weapon across four sexual-identity subgroups - heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or "not sure." The study used data collected nationally from 34,635 adults from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.
Hughes and her research team wondered if sexual-minority women and men are at a heightened risk for victimisation. The results, Hughes said, showed that they are.
Lesbian and bisexual women were more than twice as likely as heterosexual women to report victimisation over their lifetime. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual women also reported a greater number of victimisation experiences than did heterosexuals. Three times as many lesbians as heterosexual women reported childhood sexual abuse.
One possible explanation for this disproportionality, Hughes said, is that lesbians are more willing to acknowledge and report this experience.
"Gays and lesbians tend to be more self-reflective," she said. "This means they are more likely to think about and report negative or stigmatising life experiences. Heterosexuals may not be inclined to do so."
Gay men also had high rates of victimisation, with about half of them reporting lifetime victimisation. They reported significantly higher rates of childhood sexual abuse, childhood neglect, partner violence and assault with a weapon than heterosexual men.
Also higher risk for substance abuse
Not only are there higher rates of violence and victimisation among sexual minorities, but there is also a higher rate of substance abuse, Hughes said.
Regardless of sexual identity, women who reported two or more victimisation experiences had two to four times the prevalence of alcohol dependence, drug abuse or drug dependence as women who reported no victimisation, she said.
The research also concluded that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth may use substances to cope with adverse psychological and interpersonal effects of victimisation, increasing the risk for further victimisation from others, she said. - (EurekAlert!, February 2011)