"Sexual Fluidity" Linked to Substance Abuse

"Sexual Fluidity" Linked to Substance Abuse

By May Wilkerson 06/06/12

A study shows bisexual and questioning students are more likely to drink heavily than their straight or gay peers.

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Being in between ain't always easy. Photo via

In mainstream media, drinking is often seen as a precursor to sexual fluidity—with drunkenness frequently leading to sexual "exploration" on the big and small screen. But new research offers a reverse angle—suggesting that people whose sexuality is more fluid to begin with are more likely to abuse substances. Amelia Talley, assistant professor of psychological sciences at University of Missouri, conducted a study on 2,000 college students; she divided them in to groups based on sexual identity, and then monitored their drinking behavior over four years. She found that students with less rigid sexual identities (as opposed to their straight or gay peers) were more prone to using alcohol heavily, and as a coping mechanism. “Bisexuals and students whose sexual orientation was in flux reported the heaviest drinking and most negative consequences from alcohol use, such as uncontrolled drinking and withdrawal symptoms,” says Talley. “Those groups reported drinking to relieve anxiety and depression at higher rates than strictly heterosexual or homosexual individuals." She offers several explanations for the pattern, saying "people who aren’t either completely heterosexual or homosexual may feel stigmatized by both groups.” She also suggests that fear and anxiety related to developing a sexual identity could contribute to substance abuse, "just as people in any difficult situation in life may turn to alcohol to alleviate stress." 

Jenna, a 26-year-old bisexual New Yorker who is in recovery, tells The Fix, "I never felt like I fit in among gay people, or among straight people. I always felt like an outsider. When I drank, I was more confident in my body and my sexuality, and in who I am." Talley hopes the research will be used to help young people seek healthier coping mechanisms, saying "organizations could put our findings to use by providing a support network to help young people avoid using alcohol to cope with stress as they define their sexual identity".