Bisexual women at greater risk for substance-use events

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New research out of York University shows that bisexual women face a higher risk of substance-related acute events than other sexual orientations and genders.

Disparities in alcohol- and substance-related hospitalizations and deaths across sexual orientations in Canada: a longitudinal study” uses Ontario health administrative data from 2009 to 2017 to quantify hospitalizations and deaths (acute events) related to alcohol, cannabis, opioids, narcotics, and illicit drugs across different sexual orientations and genders.

Authored by Gabriel John Dusing, Chungah Kim and Antony Chum of York University, along with Andrew Nielson of the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the study indicates that bisexual women faced 2.46 times higher risks of substance-related acute events compared to heterosexual women. For non-alcohol substance-related acute events, the risk was 2.67 times higher than it was for heterosexual women.

While substance-related acute events for heterosexual men and women were found to be 29 and 16 cases per 100,000 persons per year, this increased to 33 and 34 for gay men and lesbians, and up to 99 and 55 for bisexual men and women respectively.

However, after adjusting for sociodemographic differences, only bisexual women had a significantly higher risk compared to their heterosexual counterparts. The differences between heterosexual and bisexual men (or between heterosexual women and lesbians), could be explained by other factors such as income and education.

The paper continues to suggest that bisexual women’s elevated substance use may be associated with self-medication in response to unique stressors related to discrimination and isolation.

“The findings emphasize the need for enhanced education and training for health-care professionals to address the heightened substance use risk among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals,” said Chum. “More funding and research is needed for targeted interventions focused on reducing substance use problems among bisexual individuals.”

By combining data from a population-representative survey and health administrative data, the study offers a unique contribution to research literature by sharing the first robust evidence of disparities in substance-use acute events across sexual orientations. It calls for “further evaluation of the effectiveness of tailored prevention and treatment programs, support groups, or public health campaigns designed to reach bisexual women and gay/bisexual men.”