The Influence of General Identity Disturbance on Reports of Lifetime Substance Use Disorders and Related Outcomes Among Sexual Minority Adults With a History of Substance Use

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Previous research has shown that sexual minority (i.e., nonheterosexual) individuals report increased problematic substance use involvement, compared with their sexual majority counterparts. We hypothesize that feelings of an unstable sense of self (i.e., identity disturbance) may potentially drive problematic substance use. The purpose of the current study is to examine identity disturbance among sexual minorities as a potential explanatory mechanism of increased sexual minority lifetime rates of substance dependence. Measures of identity disturbance and three indicators of sexual orientation from lifetime female (n= 16,629) and male (n = 13,553) alcohol/illicit drug users in Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) were examined. Findings generally showed that the increased prevalence of alcohol dependence, illicit drug dependence, and combined alcohol/illicit drug dependence as well as a younger age of alcohol use initiation among sexual minority women was associated with elevated levels of identity disturbance. The results were consistent with a mediational role for identity disturbance in explaining the association between sexual minority status and substance dependence and were generally replicated among male sexual minority respondents. The current research suggests that identity disturbance, a predictor of substance use, may contribute to heightened risk for substance dependence among certain subgroups of sexual minority individuals.

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